Tag Archives: History

“What Do You Expect?!”

"What Do You Expect?!" (CaD Rev 6) Wayfarer

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”
Revelation 6:15-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I find ourselves on that section of life’s road in which we get to watch and walk with my parents and her grandma as they traverse the home stretch of this earthly journey, and experience all that happens to the human body as it ages and begins to wear out. There is nothing novel or new about this progression. Ever since the third chapter of Genesis in which God tells Adam and Eve “from dust you came and to dust you will return,” human beings who live long enough have experienced the natural breakdown of the human body and mind until death finally catches up with us.

On our visits to Wendy’s 95-year-old grandmother, I’ve listened and observed as Wendy listens to grandma, who sometimes laments over her aches, pains, and nagging ailments that limit her quality of life. Wendy, ever the Enneagram Eight “challenger” that God made her, responds: “Your body is ninety-five years old, grandma! What do you expect?!”

In today’s chapter, we find John still in heaven’s throne room and Jesus (a.k.a. the Lamb) begins to open the scroll that was sealed with seven seals. As each seal on the scroll is broken, something awful is revealed to John. Conquest, war, famine, death, injustice, and cataclysmic natural disasters. Come to think of it, it’s a lot like what’s revealed to me when I open my news app each morning. Hold that thought.

A couple of observations. First, the prophetic images John sees here are not new or novel in the Great Story. Centuries before John’s vision, the prophets introduced these visionary images. Zechariah also saw the four horsemen (Zech 1 & 8). The souls under the altar connect directly with the Hebrew altar of sacrifice (Ex 29:12; Lev 4:7). The natural catastrophes mentioned were also referred to by Isaiah, Joel, Haggai, and even mentioned by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2. So I think it’s important for me to understand that everything in this vision of “end times” has been foreseen all along. It’s all connected and it’s all been foreseen for a long time. Even Jesus described it:

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Matthew 24:6-14 (NIV)

Next, I have often stated that human history in the Great Story is very much like one long life cycle. Creation and time are layered with meaning. God’s people have long understood that one day is like a lifetime from birth (sunrise) to death (night). Followers of Jesus have seen that a week is like a metaphorical lifetime of Christ in which every Friday is a memorial of Jesus’ death and every Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection that launches us into a “new” week. In the same way, each year has the same pattern. In my chapter-a-day treks through ancient books like Exodus and Joshua, I often made the case that humanity was in the toddler stage of history. Civilization acted like immature, ignorant, and petulant children who are driven by their appetites, emotions, and base instincts. If I follow that metaphor to its logical conclusion, then Revelation is a vision of humanity in the throes of death, the ultimate conclusion of sin’s curse on humanity that was declared in Genesis chapter three.

And this brings me back to Wendy addressing her grandmother’s shock and lamentation over her body’s slow, uncomfortable decline. “What do you expect?!”

In the quiet this morning, I find that an apt question with regard to the bleak description that Jesus, John, and the prophets foreshadow regarding humanity’s final chapters. Broken and sinful humanity living in our civilization and the kingdoms of this world ruled by the “prince of this world” (as Jesus named the evil one) decline into the throes of death.

Pessimistic, I know, and a bit depressing for the one who has no hope.

But, there is hope! And we’ll eventually get there at the end of this chapter-a-day trek through Revelation. Until then, the journey may seem like a long, slow slog of decline towards death. Hang in there. As Bob Dylan sings, “Just remember, that death is not the end.”

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

Series of Unfortunate Events

Series of Unfortunate Events (CaD Jud 21) Wayfarer

The men of Israel had taken an oath at Mizpah: “Not one of us will give his daughter in marriage to a Benjamite.”
Judges 21:1 (NIV)

There was a period of time in our daughter’s childhood when her favorite series of youth fiction was Lemony Snicket which always carried the tag line: A series of unfortunate events.

That tagline “a series of unfortunate events” popped into my mind as I sat in the quiet this morning pondering not only the tumultuous events that are unpacked by the author of Judges in his three-chapter epilogue but also the tumultuous events that we’ve been living through in the past two years. Looking at the headlines and the horizon, I would say that we’re not out of the woods

Today’s chapter is the final chapter of the book of Judges and the third and final chapter in a saga that began with a single Levite traveler traveling home with his wife and servant. One rather isolated local incident blows up into a national tragedy. Emotions boil over and reason gives way. The people become a mob and violence ensues. Tribal instincts perpetuate the violence. The human desire for justice turns into a cycle of vengeance.

As the teacher of Ecclesiastes famously observed, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

For the ancient Hebrews, the series of unfortunate events are intertwined with a hodge-podge of cultural decisions that only fueled the perpetuation of the unfortunate events. The Hebrew tribes had mingled their worship of Yahweh as prescribed in the Law of Moses with the religious customs of local gods and cultural mores of the region. High on the bloodlust of vengeance, eleven tribes swear an oath not to give any of their daughters into marriage with the tribe of Benjamin.

As often happens with mob violence, it is in the tragic aftermath that “cooler heads prevail” and corporate regret rises. The eleven tribes, however, have placed themselves square in the middle of a cultural dilemma. They can’t give their daughters in marriage to the men of Benjamin without breaking their oath which was an unforgivable act in the culture of that day. Yet, if they don’t find a way for the leftover men of Benjamin to find wives and procreate, the tribe will be wiped out. So, they devise a scheme to help the remnant of men from Benjamin to kidnap Canaanite virgins who were taking part in an annual religious festival. This exemplifies an ancient Near East tradition that holds sway in international relationships to this day:

Me against my brother.
My brother and I against our neighbor.
My neighbor and I against a stranger.

It is quite common for modern readers to balk at the violence and vengeance in this ancient story, but that’s exactly what the author of the book of Judges wanted his readers to feel. In his context, he wanted his contemporary readers to say: “This is awful. Isn’t it so much better to have a king who will provide justice and stability?”

This brings me back to our modern-day series of unfortunate events and a parallel desire for justice and stability. As a follower of Jesus, I am led to a very important and salient contradiction.

Human instinct is for strong human leadership to ensure justice, stability, and safety with top-down authoritarian power.

Jesus taught His followers to change the world with a grass-roots movement in which individual believers transform other individuals with interpersonal Love that changes lives from the bottom up.

Every example from history in which these two paradigms have been confused has ended in its own form of tragic failure.

And so, I enter another day, and another work week, resolved to stick to the plan Jesus gave His followers.

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

Childish Notions

Childish Notions (CaD Jud 11) Wayfarer

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
Judges 11:30-31 (NIV)

As a boy, I remember that my prayers were often contract negotiations. In my childhood, prayer was something that happened on three occasions outside of church. There was the prayer before meals which consisted of dad saying the Lord’s prayer or his other stock pre-meal prayer followed by all four kids chanting the simple pre-meal prayer in Dutch that grandma and grandpa Vander Well taught us. Then there was the bedtime prayer, which was the stock “Now I lay me down to sleep” version. The third occasion for prayer was when I desperately wanted something to happen and I had no control over it.

Examples of these things that I desperately wanted typically involved girls. For the record, I never experienced the “girls a dumb” phase of boyhood. I had my first crush in Kindergarten and things only grew more intense from there. There were also the four Super Bowls in my childhood that involved the Minnesota Vikings. Those were, perhaps, the most desperate contract negotiations with God of all time. History will tell you how that worked out for me. I’m sure I made God all sorts of promises and vows on those Super Bowl Sundays. Sports, in particular, were the catalyst for contractual prayers: “God, if you see to it that my team wins, then I will….”

Today’s chapter is one of the most difficult and disturbing in all of the Great Story. It involves a man named Jephthah who utters a contractual prayer as a vow to God. If God grants him victory then he’ll sacrifice the first thing that walks out of his home as a burnt offering to God. He is victorious, and the first thing that walks out of his home is his only child, a young daughter.

I am fond of remembering that these stories come out of the toddler stage of human civilization when humanity’s knowledge and understanding of life, self, and God was about as developed as your average three-to-five-year-old is today. There are a couple of other contextual observations I must ponder as I mull over this tragic story. One is that the author of Judges reminds me twice that during this period of time “everyone did as they saw fit” (17:6; 21:25). Jephthah’s vow was incongruent with God’s law, yet this was also a time when the Hebrew people regularly worshipped the gods of neighboring peoples and participated in their rituals, including deities like Chemosh and Milkom. It is well documented that these religions would at times practice child sacrifices and the practice was viewed as a very serious act of religious devotion. In Jephthah’s day, his actions were, sadly, understood and accepted. His actions stand as an example of why God so desperately wanted His people to forsake these other religions.

Paul wrote in his epic love chapter: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” As I look back at my childhood and my childish notions about God and life, I am both amused and ashamed to have thought and believed such things. At the same time, they stand as a benchmark and a reminder of my spiritual progress over fifty-some years. The real tragedy would be to look back and find that my spiritual understanding had never progressed beyond contractual negotiation for trivial gain.

In the quiet this morning, that’s how I find myself viewing and mourning Jephthah’s tragic story. After over 40 years of reading and studying the Great Story, I am mindful that it contains stories that are examples to follow and stories that are warnings and examples to avoid. Today’s chapter is the latter.

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

King, or Not?

King, or Not? (CaD Jud 8) Wayfarer

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Judges 8:22-23 (NIV)

The book of Judges tells the story of a very specific period of Hebrew history. I have found that understanding the context of this period of time is important in understanding the overarching Great Story. These twelve Hebrew tribes that settled in the Promised Land were a populous nation with no formal central government. Think of the contiguous United States as if each state were a tribe and there was no Federal government in Washington D.C. All around them, cities and small regions were ruled by the strong, central authority of monarchs, or kings. The Hebrews saw themselves as a theocracy, in which God was ultimately who led them and whom they served. This system had its challenges, which is what the book of Judges is all about. It sets the stage for the next chapter of the Great Story in which the Hebrew people will demand the establishment of a monarchy.

In today’s chapter, Gideon completes his military leadership in the defeat of the Midianites who had oppressed them. As a result, the people offer Gideon the opportunity to be their king. Gideon refuses, reminding the people that God alone rules over them. On the surface, Gideon appears to be saying the right thing, but the verses immediately following this proclamation (24-32) describe Gideon doing the exact opposite.

Gideon refuses to become king, but he embraces all of the privileges that a monarch would have claimed in that day. He takes a personal share of the spoil for himself. He creates a trophy commemorating his victory that the people worship in a cult-like fashion. He takes on a large harem and has many sons, one of them named Abimelek, meaning “my father is king.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about who rules over me. In the early Jesus Movement, followers of Jesus found themselves in difficult political circumstances. Their local governments were puppets of the Roman Empire. The Roman caesars claimed to be gods, but the followers of Jesus saw themselves, ultimately, as citizens of God’s Kingdom and ambassadors of that kingdom on earth.

In my mind, however, it becomes even more personal than that. In Gideon, I see a reflection of my own natural bent. As a disciple of Jesus, I am quick to say that I am not King or Lord of my life, but only Jesus is King and Lord of my life. However, I have to ask myself: “What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about the true Lord of my life?”

On this Monday morning, as I enter another work week, I find myself thinking about my life, my relationships, my work, my upcoming appointments, and my multiple task lists. I’m asking myself both what and who I am ultimately working for.

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

The “I” in “Idolatry”

The "I" in "Idolatry" (CaD Jud 3) Wayfarer

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord; they forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and the Asherahs.
Judges 3:7 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, the author of Judges makes it clear that the Hebrew people committed idolatry with the gods Baal and Asherah. Because these popular regional gods would compete for the attention of the Hebrew people for centuries, it’s important to understand a little bit of the context of who these deities were. Part of the difficulty is that one diety might have different names in different cities or regions as well as differences and nuances in the myths and worship practices.

The Mesopotamian region had an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses that prefigures the Greek and Roman gods with which we’re more familiar in Western culture. In the mythology of the era, Baal was the big dog, like Zeus. Asherah was Baal’s wife and the mother of 70+ other gods. Survival in the ancient world was hard. Death rates among infants and children were staggering. Famine was common and severe. It was a violent world in with local warlords constantly making themselves rich and powerful by conquering and pillaging neighbors. Survival was highly dependent on fertility. Families needed children to be born and survive to help with the daily necessities of survival. People needed crops to grow, survive, and be harvested so they would have enough food to survive.

Baal and Asherah were both gods of fertility, and as we all know, human fertility depends on people having sex. Thus, the worship of these fertility gods commonly involved sex. Having sex with the sacred prostitutes was a common form of worship. In some cases, children were ritually sacrificed. If life is the most precious thing, what is the most sacrificial gift one could give the gods? I can begin to appreciate that God wanted His people to avoid these things for their own spiritual, mental, and societal health.

The systemic cycle of Judges I wrote about yesterday always begins with the Hebrew people breaking the numero uno command and worshipping Baal, Asherah, et al. So what does this have to do with me sitting in my home office on this early Thursday morning in the 21st century?

A couple of thoughts I’m pondering in the quiet:

It’s easy, perhaps too easy, to think about Baal and Asherah and think that idolatry isn’t relevant in my life today. At its heart, idolatry is the worship of something else rather than God. Jesus said that the greatest command was to love the Lord God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. To what do I give my heart, soul, mind, and strength? It may not be Baal and Asherah, but it might be the accumulation of wealth, a life stuffed with the latest gadgets, a social media profile with lots of followers and influence, a closet full of the latest fashions, a life of being high and having no responsibility, the endless pursuit of more pleasure or a stronger adrenaline rush, or any number of distractions to which I channel my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Idolatry is about the fidelity of spirit. Where do my time, energy, money, strength, and mind share get spent each day?

Some things never change. Over 3,000 years have passed since the events in today’s chapter but we’re still dealing with the core issues of life and death, fertility, survival, and power struggles between groups of people. In a few minutes, I will go down to read the news and I know what it will be. Conflict over terminating the life of infants in the womb. The desire to have sex without restriction and free of the consequences of human fertility. The struggle for power over culture, thought, and speech. There will be stories of people killing other people because they disagree. There will be stories of zealous warlords and emperors of business. There’s a likelihood of there being stories of people killing, burning, looting, and raping as crime rates soar in American cities.

So, what has changed exactly?

Once again, I find myself back at the point of thinking about the human condition…my human condition. As a follower of Jesus, I’m told to start by asking myself what it is I treasure. Where do spend my heart, soul, mindshare, time, and resources? What do I do with what I control? I am the “I” in “idolatry.” I am the “I” in “idolatry.” It’s not if I will have my personal idols, but in what or whom will I invest my heart, soul, mindshare, and resources. I’m going to spend them somewhere. Where am I spending mine?

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

Family Patterns

Family Patterns (CaD Jos 15) Wayfarer

The allotment for the tribe of Judah, according to its clans, extended down to the territory of Edom, to the Desert of Zin in the extreme south.
Joshua 15:1 (NIV)

I remember as a child beginning to see patterns of relationships in my extended family. Favoritism, sibling rivalry, family feuds, and broken relationships were all present in one form or another. I didn’t always know the source or how these things developed over time, or how far the patterns of relationship went back, but I certainly observed the fruit of their consequences in the present. I’ve always been fascinated by these things.

In today’s chapter, the first of the nine and a half remaining tribes receive their allotment, beginning with the tribe of Judah. It’s always interesting to see who goes first in a family system, and I can’t forget that the Hebrew tribes are a 600-year-old family system. Typically, I would expect things to be arranged by birth order, beginning with the honored firstborn. but Judah was the fourth of the sons of Jacob, and this got me pondering.

I backtracked to Genesis 49, where Jacob is on his deathbed and he gathers his sons to speak a blessing over each one. On that occasion, he did go in birth order, but he didn’t have many good things to say to his eldest three sons.

Reuben slept with his father’s wife, his stepmother and Jacob said that Reuben would “no longer excel.” This made me think about the tribe of Reuben asking Moses for land on the other side of Jordan. Is it possible that they worried that they’d better get an allotment sooner because they feared getting the shaft later?

Likewise, brothers 2 and 3, Simeon and Levi, were told by their father that their violence and arrogance in attacking towns without their father’s permission were a curse. They would be “scattered” in Israel. For Levi’s tribe, this was literally true, since they wouldn’t receive land but would serve the Lord across all of the tribes. Simeon would end up getting territory within Judah.

Judah was the fourth, and his father’s blessing is equally prophetic:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
    and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

A scepter was a token of royalty. King David would come from the tribe of Judah, and the Lord would “establish his throne forever.” David would establish his throne in the fortress of Jerusalem, the one fortified city of the Jebusites that the tribe could not conquer (vs 63). It would be from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah, Jesus, would come.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about family systems and how they affect the individuals within that system for generations. There is something tragic in the way things often play out. The descendants of Reuben and Simeon, living 600 years later, had nothing to do with the mistakes their forefathers made, nor did the descendants of Judah do anything to deserve the favor afforded theirs. At the same time, along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are some things that I simply don’t control, and getting my undies in a bunch about it will profit me nothing. I have found it more profitable to seek to understand, to see things for what they are, and learn to flow with it.

That is not how things will play out for Judah I’m afraid. Eventually, all of the other tribes, with the exception of Benjamin, will turn on them in a long, bloody civil war. They will reject the throne of David and set up their own king. That won’t go well for them, I’m afraid. I’ve learned that sometimes there’s wisdom in learning how to live and operate within an unhealthy system and there’s often foolishness in trying to rage against that which I didn’t create, don’t control, and won’t be able to change.

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

A Different Way

A Different Way (CaD Jos 6) Wayfarer

But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.
Joshua 6:25 (NIV)

Over the last year, I found myself subscribing to several accounts on social media that regularly publish posts and memes about what it was like growing up in the 70s and 80s. It’s brought back a lot of memories:

As much as these bring back fond memories, they also remind me of just how much life has significantly changed in just one generation. Just as I could never fully fathom what my grandparents’ lives were like living through two World Wars and the Great Depression, my grandchildren will never fully fathom life without access to more information in their hands than was available to me on the entire planet.

As technology, data, processing speed, and computer memory continue to advance at an ever increasing pace, I’ve observed what appears to be an increasing lack of empathy and/or appreciation for the past. What I witness is that Cancel Culture isn’t just about socially ostracizing people who don’t toe an ideological line, but I also see people dismissing the past as being as outdated and worthless as that second-generation iPod gathering dust in a drawer somewhere.

Today’s chapter introduces us to the brutal life that was daily human existence 3500 years ago and in the early chapters of the Great Story. The Hebrew conquest of Canaan is layered with meaning that contains implications and themes that foreshadow the larger themes of grace, judgment, and redemption that are present in the larger story. Yet, it is easy to dismiss for modern readers who are used to simply canceling anything that doesn’t comfortably fit in my 21st century, politically correct worldview.

War and conquest were the dominant way of life. City-States and regions were continually embroiled in surviving those armies, nations, and fledgling empires bent on growing their power. But what happened at Jericho is actually different in many regards. God makes it clear that it is He who is passing judgment on the people of Jericho, it is God who is out front making victory miraculously possible, and it is God who was gracious with Rahab and her family, who by faith, believed that the God was the one true God. The Hebrew people were not allowed to take spoil from the battle. Archaeological evidence at Jericho found entire jars full of grain that had been left which makes little sense in a world in which famine regularly wiped out entire people groups. There’s something different taking place. For forty years God has been doing something different with these Hebrew tribes than the world has ever seen.

And, if I can’t fully fathom what life was like for my grandparents in the Great Depression, then I certainly can’t fully fathom what life was like for those Hebrew tribes at Jericho. Personally, I don’t take that as a license to ignore and judge either the Hebrews or God, but rather as an invitation to be gracious in my ignorance while also wrapping my head and heart around the larger Story being told that I might continue to gain wisdom in my own journey and where this Great Story is leading.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t shake the fact that it is God who is driving the action, God who is leading the charge, God who is just beginning to reveal Himself to humanity by telling His people “I’m going to show you a different way of doing things.” Which is the same thing that Jesus did when He revealed that Messiah was not about earthly power and kingdoms, but about a suffering servant compelled by love to sacrificially lay down His life for others.

Which reminds me that on this day, even with my phone in my hand which has more computing power than the Apollo mission had sending men to the moon, and access to an infinite number of distractions of any kind I could possibly want, I believe that Jesus is still trying to get my attention, to hold my focus long enough to get through to me: “Tom, I’m trying to show you a different way of doing things. A different way than you see all the kingdoms and power structures of this world doing with them amidst all the technology and knowledge they have. Follow me.”

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

Memorials

Memorials (CaD Jos 4) Wayfarer

So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
Joshua 4:8-9 (NIV)

A few weeks ago, I shared about Storii, the company our daughter, Taylor, works for. As a part of their suite of software applications, they’ve introduced a process by which an individual regularly receives a phone call asking them a specific question (e.g. “What was your first job?”) and then giving them four minutes to record their answer. The recordings are then made available to family members. It’s genius in its simplicity, and it’s been fun that Taylor has my father participating. I’ve heard him share some things I’d never known before.

I’ve often shared in these posts about my love of history, including the history of my own family. I’ve always found that an understanding of the past helps inform my own present earthly journey. Wisdom can be found in knowing family stories. I just wish I knew more of them. Hence, my joy with what Taylor’s employer is doing.

In today’s chapter, Joshua orders twelve men, one from each of the Hebrew tribes, to gather a stone from the Jordan River bed. Joshua then had the stones placed as a memorial for future generations to remember what God had done on that day when the waters of the Jordan River were stopped up so that the people could cross on dry ground.

That got me thinking this morning about memorials. Ironically, sitting on my desk as I write this is a photograph and ticket I had laminated of the night Taylor had the folks at the Iowa Cubs surprise us, revealing the gender of our first grandson, Milo, on the giant scoreboard. It was such a great memory. I wanted a way to be continually reminded of it. I use the laminated photo as a bookmark, and it makes me happy every time I see it. It’s a memorial for me.

I’m reminded this morning that God specifically told His people to share their God stories with future generations:

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
Deut 4:9 (NIV)

Of course, this begs a few questions: Do I have stories of what God has done in my life? What have my eyes seen God do? How have I experienced God’s goodness and faithfulness along my journey?

In the quiet this morning, today’s chapter has me thinking quite simply and practically. How do I share and leave the story about what God has done in my life for my descendants?

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

“That Woman”

"That Woman" (CaD Jos 2) Wayfarer

Before the spies lay down for the night, [Rahab] went up on the roof and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you…for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
Joshua 2:8-9,11b (NIV)

I have often commented that God blessed me by surrounding me with strong women throughout my entire life journey. When I sat down to pen my first words to my grandson, that’s what I wrote about. When I was in high school I was blessed to have a history teacher who made the status of women a core part of the curriculum. That laid the foundation for me to begin to appreciate just how difficult life has been for women, and it still is in many ways. It’s taken me a long time of living with and walking the life journey with good women to grow in that understanding. I haven’t arrived, by the way. I’m still learning.

In today’s chapter, we meet one of the most amazing, underappreciated characters in all of the Great Story. Perhaps one of the reasons this person is underappreciated is that she was a woman, a prostitute, a sex worker, a woman of ill-repute. She was the kind of woman that doesn’t get mentioned by name in polite society. She’s “that” woman, and she lived in an ancient, walled city called Jericho. The walled city-state was just across the Jordan River from where Joshua and the Hebrew people were camped and poised on conquest.

Espionage is as old as war itself, and the newly appointed leader of the Hebrew people, Joshua, sends spies into Jericho to case the joint. It would not have been at all odd for two road-weary male travelers to enter a city and high-tail it to the red light district in search of a prostitute. That’s exactly what they did. They entered “that woman’s” house.

Now the twelve Hebrew tribes have been nomads for 40 years, continually growing in population. Scholars estimate that there were hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Hebrew people along with their flocks and herds. It is what scholars call the Late Bronze Age and in the land of Canaan life is a dog-eat-dog world of peoples and city-states conquering one another. The people of Jericho are well aware that the Hebrew hoard is camped on the other side of the Jordan. They have heard the stories of the miraculous escape from Egypt and of the Hebrew exploits in Sinai. In their world gods were one of a myriad of deities typically associated with a specific town or region. The Hebrews had this one mysterious, invisible God that traveled with them; The God who brought mighty Pharaoh to his knees and held back the seas.

“That woman” knew who these men were, as did others who saw the spies enter the city gate and enter “that woman’s” house.

“That woman” does two important things as she speaks with the Hebrew spies. First, she makes a statement of faith, proclaiming to her clandestine visitors that she believes the God of the Hebrews is the God of heaven and earth. Second, she acts on that faith by offering to hide the spies and save their lives, asking only that they return the favor to her and her family when Jericho falls.

She believed, and she acted on that belief.

“That woman” the Canaanite foreigner. “That woman” the prostitute. She has a name. Her name is Rahab, and her name appears, not only in today’s chapter but also in a couple of very important places in the Great Story.

Rahab is named in Jesus’ family tree. (Matthew 1:5)

Rahab is mentioned by the author of Hebrews in his “Faith Hall of Fame.” (Hebrews 11:13)

Rahab is mentioned by James as an example of faith in action. (James 2:25)

In the quiet this morning, find myself thinking about the fact that a foreign, female, pagan, prostitute became a pivotal character in the Great Story. Rahab checks all the boxes of a person who doesn’t measure up on humanity’s religious status scale. Rahab foreshadows what Jesus said that He came to do: to tear down humanity’s religious status scale altogether and to save and redeem anyone who believes and acts on that belief regardless of gender, race, language, nation, tribe, creed, or broken, sinful past. No matter who a person is, where they are from, or what they have done, redemption is sitting there for any who believe and act on that belief.

I also find myself thinking about the amazing, underappreciated women in my story, and I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude for each one.

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

The Mysterious Order

The Mysterious Order (CaD Heb 5) Wayfarer

[Jesus] was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:9 (NIV)

Growing up in America, I am used to there being a separation between the government and religion, but for most of western history since the time of Jesus, the two were intertwined in one way or another. When the Jesus movement became the Holy Roman Empire, the pope was both a religious and political authority. Even after the reformation, protestant kings and queens held authority over both their country’s government and state religion. Queen Elizabeth is still head over the Church of England to this day.

For the ancient Hebrews, there had always been a separation between their religion and their monarchy. The priesthood was established by the Law of Moses around 1400 BC. The monarchy wasn’t established for another 400 years when the Hebrew people chose Saul as their first king. Yet the prophets had foreshadowed a Messiah who would unite the two as both priest and king.

In today’s chapter, the author of this letter to Hebrew followers of Jesus makes a head-scratcher of a statement. He explains that Jesus was made humanity’s ultimate High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.”

To understand this statement, we have to go back to our chapter-a-day journey through Genesis 14. There we find Abram (aka Abraham) being met by a mysterious sage named Melchizedek who appears out of nowhere, has a bit moment in the story, and then exits back into mystery. Here’s what we know:

  • Melchizedek means “King of righteousness.”
  • He was King of Salem (a shortened version of Jerusalem).
  • He was “priest of God Most High”
  • He met the Abram, with bread and wine, and blessed him.
  • Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of his spoils, which was known as a “king’s share.”

When the author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is high priest “in the order of Melchizedek” he is first of all stating that King David was prophetic when he wrote the lyrics of Psalm 110:

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

The fact that David wrote this is additionally prophetic because God established David’s throne and it was through David’s line that the Messiah would come (FYI: Jesus was a descendant of David). The author then points to this prophetic line from King David and explains that Jesus is the Messiah in the mysterious order of Melchizedek who was both “King” of Jerusalem and “priest” of God Most High 600 years before the priesthood of Aaron was established by Moses.

I find myself reflecting on history this morning. Whenever earthly kings and queens have headed both church and state the results have been typically disastrous. I would argue that much of the apt criticism of Christianity stems from centuries when the Roman Catholic Church held sway over both politics and religion. It was a human institution and kingdom of this world claiming to be God’s Kingdom on earth. Jesus told Pilate, “my kingdom is not of this world.”

Allowing the persecuted Jesus movement to take over the most powerful Empire on earth was, I believe, one of the most strategically shrewd moves the Prince of this World has ever made this side of the Garden of Eden. Almost overnight, the church of Jesus became about human power, human authority, human control, and all the earthly treasures a worldly Empire both creates and hordes. It was seduced into becoming the very opposite of everything Jesus taught. It became the very sort of human religious institution that crucified Jesus in the first place.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating Jesus, both king and high priest of a kingdom that is not of this world. I’m thinking about my citizenship in that kingdom and the role I’m given as an ambassador of that kingdom. It isn’t an earthly human institution. It’s further up, and further in. It’s rooted in the eternal mystery, like the order of Melchizedek, in which the monarchy and priesthood work together in perfect harmony like a circle dance of trinity in which one is three and three is one.

And, it’s that kingdom I’m called to represent in my day today.

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