Tag Archives: Judah

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.

Mysteries Within Mysteries

Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, [Jesus] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV)

The further I have progressed on this life journey the more I have come to understand that I must embrace mystery if I am going to progress spiritually in certain places. This flies in the face of a system of reason in which I was raised and educated. Our culture is one that places what I have come to understand as an undue premium on knowing. Theories are stated as certainties quite frequently whether they come from the institutions of religion, education, politics, or science. I find that our culture has lost sight of the value of embracing the knowledge of knowing that we do not know or cannot know.

I have found that the desire to try to replace mystery with false certainty is a fool’s errand. I see this repeated over and over again in history. It leads down all sorts of silly and hurtful paths. Minor issues become major battlegrounds, honest exploration is sacrificed on the altar of exclusionary social litmus tests, and institutions make all sorts of embarrassing mistakes (sometimes with deadly consequences). Embracing mystery, on the other hand, has pushed my heart and mind to new avenues of possibility, exploration, discovery and faith. I love how Catholic mystic Richard Rohr puts it: “Mystery is not something we can not understand. Mystery is something we can endlessly understand.”

The letter to Hebrew believers has always been shrouded in mystery, not the least of which is the identity of the author. Two centuries after it was penned we are still not certain who wrote the letter. My fundamentalist Bible professors taught me that I must believe it was Paul who wrote it. Textual critics in education laugh at such a claim, telling me it certainly couldn’t be Paul. Arguments have been made for a host of first century figures (i.e. Luke, Apollos, Barnabas). More recently, some scholars have argued that it was most certainly a woman, Priscilla, who was among Jesus larger circle of 70 disciples and travelled with Paul. I find this possibility fascinating and stimulating. It has led me to discover more about this amazing woman through whom God did amazing things. I know, however, at least one of my fundamentalist professors would have said it most certainly wasn’t Priscilla and would certainly have marginalized and subtly punished me educationally had I steadfastly held to the possibility in his class.

I do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrew believers, and that’s perfectly fine for me. It is a mystery that has much for me to discover in its exploration of possibility.

In today’s chapter we encounter yet another mystery in the revelation of Christ as eternal High Priest. The Hebrew believers who first received this letter would have intimate knowledge about how the Hebrew priestly system worked as prescribed by the Law of Moses. Only descendants of Aaron (Moses’ right-hand man) were to be priests, and the High Priest could only come from those genetic ranks. According to the prophets, however, the Messiah was to come from the tribe of Judah and the house of David as Jesus did. Remember Christmas? Mary gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, the “City of David.” Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem for the census because they were both descendants of David in the tribe of Judah.

But now the mysterious author of Hebrews lays out a claim that Christ is our eternal “High Priest,” the cosmic conduit between God and man. But the Hebrew readers would know that Jesus was not from the line of Aaron, so how could He be High Priest? The author reveals Jesus as High Priest “in the order of Melchizedek.” In Genesis 14:18 Abram (who would soon be known as Abraham) meets a mysterious King of Salem named Melchizedek who was “priest of God Most High.” He serves Abram bread and wine (remind you of anything?) and blesses Abram. Abram in return presents the priest Melchizedek an offering of a tenth of everything.

That’s all we know about Melchizedek. This mysterious person was “priest of God Most High” before Abram was Abraham, before Israel was a people, before the Law of Moses was given, before the Hebrew priesthood was defined as descendants of Aaron. It’s a mystery, and the author of Hebrews attaches the mystery of Christ the cosmic High Priest to the lineage to the mysterious Melchizedek who appears within the Hebrew tradition but outside the system of Moses.

This morning I’m once again perplexed, stimulated, and inspired by the mystery of Melchizedek, of Jesus, and of Hebrews. As I humbly embrace the mystery I push deeper into that which can be endlessly understood and so take another step forward on the path of faith and Spirit.

Lesson of the Prophetic Prodigal

In that day people will look to their Maker
    and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah 17:7 (NIV)

Isaiah is taking a prophetic tour of the region of his day. In previous days we’ve been to Moab and Aram. The tour of doom continues today to the kingdoms of Syria, and even to Israel’s northern kingdom.

The Kingdom of Israel split during the time of David’s grandson (Solomon’s son). The southern Kingdom of Judah (David’s tribe) along with the tribe of Benjamin, continued to make Jerusalem its capital city, and continued to put descendants of the line of David on the royal throne. Isaiah was a prophet of Judah. With Solomon’s temple a prominent fixture in Judah, the worship of God was more likely to be central to the lives of citizens there.

The northern kingdom was made up of the other ten of Israel’s tribes. There were different capital cities, but in the days of Isaiah it was in Samaria. The monarchy in Israel was a political free-for-all, and religion was seemingly a free-for-all as well. While Judah was more apt to be faithful to God and the worship of God at Solomon’s temple, the tribes of the northern kingdom were more given to worship of Canaanite deities.

In today’s chapter, Isaiah’s apocalyptic, regional prophecies include their northern kin, though the coming doom does not mean total destruction for Israel. Isaiah speaks of a gleaning (harvest) in which some fruit remains. Isaiah’s message predicted the regional invasion of the Assyrians, in which the Assyrians would take many captive and leave a few behind. This was a common practice of siege warfare in that day.

From a spiritual perspective, the tribes of Israel and Judah are bit like Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. While Jesus’ parable was not intended as a political allegory, the the metaphor of the parable resonates. Judah the more dutiful older son and Israel the rebellious younger son. God has a pattern of allowing His children freedom of will to accept or reject His ways, and equally allowing his children to experience the painful fruits of their own actions and decisions.

This morning I am thinking about how easy it is as parents to want to protect our children from themselves. When we control all behavior, control all exposure to the world, and protect children from all harm they are more likely to be safe. They are also less likely to be wise. It is only in the distant country, and in the painful consequences of his own actions, that the prodigal realizes his folly and makes a choice to return home.

Isaiah’s prophecy of Israel pre-figures the lesson of the parable. Israel will suffer the devastation of an Assyrian siege, its best and brightest will be taken into captivity, but the painful lesson will turn the hearts of the prodigal back to their spiritual Father.

Loving Devotion and Life-less Obligation

I have been on a pseudo-sabbatical from my daily chapter-a-day posts for the past month. I took the opportunity of late summer vacations both to the lake and to Kauai to rest from my normal routines, though when I rest from regular routines I have a penchant for developing new ones.. I’ve felt prompted, of late, to wade into the writings of the prophet Isaiah, which I’ve blogged through only once back in the spring of 2010. It’s rather daunting journey, merely for the length of it (66 chapters!). Like all lengthy journeys it affords both tedious plodding and memorable, breathtaking moments. Here we go.

One of the keys to reading the poetic verse and visions of the ancient prophets (nearly all of the prophetic writings of what we refer to as the Old Testament are penned as Hebrew poetry) are 1) the cultural and historic context of the time in which the author was writing and 2) the person and circumstance of the prophet himself.

Isaiah lived in the capital city of Jerusalem during a period of “the kings.” The twelve tribes of Israel had been united under the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, but then split in two during the reign of Solomon’s son. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and had its capital in Judah. Judah was loyal to the house and line of David. The northern kingdom (Israel) was made up of the rest of the tribes and claimed Bethel as its capital and religious center. Israel’s monarchy was continually a free-for-all which made for a lot of political intrigue.

Like all great books, the beginning introduces the overarching themes. In today’s opening chapter Isaiah sets the scene in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was the center of Israel’s sacrificial system. Over the last few months I blogged through the book of Leviticus, in which set the sacrificial system into being as established through Moses. The dutiful, religious people of Judah continue to carry out their rituals, festivals and sacrifices. But, there’s a problem.

Isaiah gets right to the crux of the matter. The people were carrying out their religious duties, but had forsaken the heart of their relationship with God. They were like a spouse who manages the daily household routines of marital and family obligation while their heart wanders in desire for others. God wanted their obedient actions to be motivated out of love and desire, not rote obligation void of love and devotion.

I have confessed to being a person of routines, and this morning I am thinking about the religious routines in my own life. My daily quiet time and blog post are a routine. Attending church services on Sunday is a routine. Giving financially to my local church and other ministries is a routine. But, are these coming from a heart-felt love and devotion to God, or are they merely Life-less robotic religious behaviors? Do my actions point God toward a living love and desire within my heart or, like the people of Isaiah’s day, have my religious behaviors become absorbed by the rotting stench of my hypocrisy?

Dealing with that stain and stench is another major theme of Isaiah’s poetic visions, which he establishes in today’s chapter:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

 

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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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Judgement and Grace

source: aclamp via Flickr
source: aclamp via Flickr

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them….”
Ezekiel 6:1 (NIV)

At the time of Ezekiel’s prophetic messages (c. 590 B.C.), the nation of Israel had been split for over three centuries by civil war. Like the U.S. civil war, the nation had been divided north and south. Ezekiel came from the southern kingdom, called Judah because it was primarily made up of that particular tribe and Judah was the tribe from which King David had come. The southern kingdom followed the royal line of David and kept the capitol in Jerusalem.

The northern kingdom was called Israel and consisted of 10 of the other 12 Israeli tribes. Because the northern kingdom did not follow a particular royal lineage, the throne of Israel was continually up for grabs. The northern kingdom’s history is marked by political intrigue and bloody power struggles. Cut off from Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, the northern kingdom had its religious center in the town of Bethel. Israel largely abandoned the religious law of Moses and generally worshipped the popular Canaanite gods of the day whose worship included sexual fertility rituals and, in some instances, child sacrifice.

In the previous chapters, Ezekiel’s prophecy has focused on God’s judgement on the southern kingdom of Judah and its capitol, Jerusalem. In today’s chapter, God’s message through Ezekiel takes an abrupt turn to the north. The earthly kingdoms may have been divided, but in God’s economy all 12 tribes of Israel were still His people. Just because Judah was going to face God’s judgement for their unfaithfulness did not mean Israel was going to escape His wrath.

There was an interesting parallel to the prophetic messages to both kingdoms. Amidst the messages of doom there was a measure of grace. A remnant would escape the judgement and be scattered, leaving hope of the nation’s ultimate survival.

Today, my mind is making parallels between God’s punishment of Israel and Judah, and the judgement I faced many times as a child. Like all children, I dreaded the judgement and wrath of my parents. The sting of corporal punishment and “time out” exile to my room was no joy to endure even when deserved. But amidst the punishment there was always a seed of grace. I was loved. Blessing and restoration would return with my repentance and obedience.

Peace and Stability in Volatile Times

source: eastcentralillinoiswxphotography93 via Flickr
source: eastcentralillinoiswxphotography93 via Flickr

 

In the twenty-sixth year of Asa king of Judah…
In the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah…
In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah…
In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah…
1 Kings 16:8, 15, 23, 29 (NIV)

 

After the reign of Solomon, the nation of Israel was split in two. Ten of Israel’s tribes comprise the northern kingdom of Israel with the capital in Samaria. A “Game of Thrones” is a good way to describe the political situation in the northern kingdom as the throne is occupied by a string of strongmen who largely ascended by power, violence and force. Nineteen kings occupy the throne over a period of about 200 years before being conquered by the Assyrians.

 

The tribes of Judah and Benjamin comprise the southern kingdom of Judah with the capital in Jerusalem. Judah remains loyal to the house of David and clings to God’s promises to David. The throne is occupied by nineteen kings and one queen from the line of David over a period of about 350 years before Judah is conquered by the Babylonians.

 

I found it interesting that King Asa of Judah was described as being faithful to God and he reigned over 40 years. It struck me while reading today’s chapter that during Asa’s reign the political situation in the northern kingdom is extremely volatile with a series of military leaders and strong men claiming the throne. Every one of them is described as being committed to the local pagan idols and gods rather than the God of Israel. In the case of Zimri, he held the throne for an entire week before committing suicide by burning the palace down around him. Yikes.

 

This morning I’m pondering the contrast in the two nations during Asa’s reign. It’s an apt word picture for how I think of my life with and without my faith. Despite the ebb and flow of blessing and tragedy along life’s road, I find a high degree of peace and stability from my faith in Jesus – much like Judah seemed to experience during Asa’s reign. I think back to what I remember life being like before my decision to follow Jesus and it feels a lot like the political situation in Israel with life swaying aimlessly with each shift in the power of emotions or circumstances.

 

Today, I’m thankful for peace and stability even in the midst of volatile life changes.

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