Tag Archives: Judah

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.

Lessons in the Layers

Lessons in the Layers (CaD Gen 44) Wayfarer

[Judah said to Joseph ] “Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
Genesis 44:33-34 (NIV)

During my family roots investigation that I’ve discussed in the last couple of posts, I was blessed to discover and correspond with my cousin, John, in the Netherlands. John and I are third-generation cousins. When my great-grandfather sailed for America he left his younger brother, John’s great-grandfather, behind. When Wendy and I traveled to London back in 2009, John joined us and we spent a very enjoyable day together.

Late that day, the three of us were sharing a pint together in a London Pub. I expressed my curiosity about what would make my great-grandfather leave everything, including his entire family, and make a new life in America by himself. I remember John not being surprised by this. He shared that getting angry and walking away was not uncommon in our family.

Along my journey, I’ve observed that certain themes are recurring in family systems. It could be sin that occurs in repeated generations or behavioral or relational patterns that repeat themselves. I remember one family member observing that when her husband left her she was the exact same age as her mother when her father left. I have found these types of patterns fascinating and meaningful in gaining both understanding and wisdom.

I continued to see these patterns in today’s chapter. Joseph deceives the brothers who wanted to kill him, then chose to sell him into slavery. This is just like his father, Jacob, deceiving his own father, Isaac. It’s just like Jacob’s Uncle Laban deceiving him. It’s just like Isaac and Abraham deceiving their hosts into thinking their wives were their sisters. It’s just like Joseph’s brothers deceiving their father into thinking Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal. It’s a pattern in the family system.

Yesterday I discussed that Judah, the fourth-born son of Jacob/Israel, has now ascended to the role of the leader, the position of the first-born. This is also a recurring theme as both his grandfather (Isaac) and father (Jacob) were second-born sons who ascended to the blessing and position of the first-born. This is a theme that will reoccur throughout the Great Story as an object lesson of God’s message: “My ways are not your ways.”

Faced with the prospect of fulfilling their father’s worst fears, Judah steps up to plead for Benjamin’s life and offers himself as a substitutionary slave in place of his little brother. Fascinating that it was Judah who saved Joseph’s life by pleading with his brothers not to kill Joseph but sell him into slavery back in chapter 37. Judah’s conscience is weighed down by what they did to Joseph and their father. He will do anything not to repeat the robbing of their father of his beloved son. He’s been down this road before. He doesn’t want to repeat the pattern.

Toxic patterns of thought, behavior, and relationship wreak havoc within a family system. These were the kinds of things I wanted to discover, process, and address in my own journey as I dug into the layers of stories, foibles, and flaws in my family’s root system. Did it succeed? One could easily argue not if perfection is the standard. Yet, I’ve observed that the pursuit and/or expectation of perfection is a toxic thought pattern in-and-of-itself. I did, however, discover invaluable lessons in the layers. It has been successful in imparting wisdom, allowing me to recognize certain patterns in other areas of life, and informing both my choices and how I manage relationships. I know that blind spots remain, but I doggedly pursue sight with each layer of blindness that’s revealed in my journey.

Perhaps the most important layer of lessons has been about grace. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Judah, and Joseph all had their faults and blind spots. They, too, were part of a very flawed, very human family system. It still didn’t disqualify them from being used by God in their leading roles within the opening chapters of the Great Story. So, I’ve learned (and am learning) to have grace with those flawed ancestors and family members in my own family system as I pray they and my descendants will have grace with me. It’s also teaching me that God’s amazing grace extends to, and through, very flawed human beings, and that includes me.

Featured image: Joseph Converses with Judah by Tissot. Public Domain.

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

Generational Impact

Generational Impact (CaD Gen 43) Wayfarer

Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.
Genesis 43:8-9 (NIV)

As I mentioned in a post last week, I consciously spent several years investigating my family history. The quest was motivated by a desire to understand the family systems from which I descended and how they may have influenced my own family system, my childhood, and the person I’ve become. One of the things that I discovered in my quest was the fact that decisions can have a far-reaching, generational impact.

My maternal great-grandfather committed suicide. The story goes that he had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis which was a death sentence at the time. The family suspected that he killed himself to spare them the agony and financial burden of his care. My grandfather was the eldest of three children and his mother sent him to be raised by her parents while she retained the younger two. My grandfather’s stories of life with his strict, disciplinarian grandparents were mostly unpleasant. It was not a fun life, but he learned the value of hard work and was taught strong values. He also had an uncle, a Methodist minister, who took him under his wing and planted seeds of faith in him. His brother and sister, on the other hand, were left under the care of a desperate woman who became a gold-digger, worked on the riverboats, went through a series of failed marriages. Her children’s lives would become equally broken and tragic.

My paternal great-grandfather came to America from the Netherlands. He owned a hardware store in Rock Valley, Iowa and his eldest two sons were partners in the business. My grandfather and his sister were younger siblings who desperately wanted to be part of the family business but were shut out. Since the family business was not an option, my grandfather decided to go to college. He went into education and was a career educator.

As I look back, I can trace the events of my grandfather’s stories to my own life. Had my grandfather not have been farmed out to his grandparents and taught strict lessons of hard work, discipline, and spiritual values, my mother would not have been the person she was and those life lessons would not have been passed down. Had my grandfather not gone into education, I’m not sure how much education would have been valued in my own family. I’m not sure my siblings and I would have had the life journeys we’ve had or would have the careers we’ve each chosen. I even discovered, unexpectedly, that my love of theatre may have had its roots in my Grandpa Vander Well’s college years at Central College.

In today’s chapter, there’s a subtle shift in the storyline that is lost on most readers, and few see the generational impact that the events will have on the history of the world. Desperate for more food to ensure their survival, Israel tells his sons to go buy more grain in Egypt. But Joseph told them not to return without their youngest brother, Benjamin. Judah steps up to take personal responsibility for Benjamin’s safety. From this point in the story, Judah becomes the leader and spokesman for the brothers. Judah is fourth-born, but his elder brothers Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had been involved in sexual scandal and had instigated the bloody massacre of Shechem that brought disgrace to the family and threatened their survival.

Hundreds of years later, the twelve tribes would be settled in the Promised Land. The tribe of Judah would emerge as the leading tribe. It was from the tribe of Judah that King David would emerge along with the capital city of Jerusalem, the temple of Solomon, and the dynasty from which the Messiah would be born. When the nation eventually splits in bloody civil war, ten tribes would break away and reject the Davidic line of succession. Two tribes would remain allied in maintaining the Davidic line in the belief that the words of the prophets would be fulfilled and a Messiah would someday spring from it. Those two tribes were Judah and Benjamin, the very brother whom Judah swore to be responsible for in today’s chapter.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about the decisions we make in our lives that will have a generational impact on our descendants. I can see the past and how it’s affected my own life. It’s harder to imagine how my own choices and decisions will affect my great-grandchildren and great-grandnephews and great-grandnieces. I am reminded why God continually reminds us to love our children, to teach them God’s ways, and not to exasperate them. And, why God tells children to honor their parents. For good or for ill, we are part of one another’s stories and the stories of generations who will come after. While I have no control over those who came before me nor do I control those who will come after me, I do have control of my own story and my own family relationships on this journey. I best consider what I do with those relationships wisely.

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

Different Times, Same Journey

Different Times, Same Journey (CaD Gen 38) Wayfarer

As [Tamar] was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law [Judah]. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Genesis 38:25 (NIV)

I have blogged often in my posts about my maternal great-grandmother, Daisy, who was the celebrated matriarch of my mother’s family. The untold story of Grandma Daisy is her complicated relationship with her husband, Will. As heralded as Daisy was for her faith, joy, strength, fortitude, Will was remembered by his family as a tragically broken man who, from birth, was trapped in circumstances that were not of his own making, and from which he would never truly escape.

One of the challenges for modern readers of Genesis is to understand the social customs and mores of the tribal Near Eastern Mesopotamian cultures in the time of 1900 B.C. There are aspects of humanity and human behavior in which “nothing is new under the sun.” At the same time, the matters of daily life, systems of family, marriage, commerce, religion, government, survival, and culture are largely foreign to a 21st-century reader.

Today’s chapter is a fascinating lesson in the roles of men and women with regard to marriage and widowhood. It was a true patriarchal system. A woman had no status but for her husband and/or sons. She could not own land or inherit an estate. Widows were in a particularly vulnerable position. Unless her husband’s family agreed to marry her to a relative and she produced male offspring (called a Levirate marriage), she could either return to her father’s household (if he would have her) or try and survive by prostitution or the generosity of others.

Once again, the recurring theme of deception crops up, now in the fourth generation from Abraham. In yesterday’s chapter, Joseph’s brothers deceive their father into thinking his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. In today’s chapter, Judah’s eldest two sons die, leaving him to care for his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He promises to marry her to his third son once he was of age, and sends her back to her family as was the custom of that day. He didn’t keep his word, however, and married his youngest son off to another. Judah knew he was not keeping his pledge to Tamar in yet another deception.

Tamar, left in a vulnerable position with no recourse, shrewdly beats Judah at his own family’s game of deception. Eerily similar to Judah’s father’s deception of Isaac, Tamar disguises herself, pretends to be a prostitute in order to get Judah to sleep with her and impregnate her. Having birthed a son by Judah, he is forced to bring Tamar and his son into the family or risk public humiliation.

Which, in the quiet this morning, brought me back to the story of Will and Daisy who, like Judah and Tamar, lived in a culture of intense social pressure. Their divorce left Daisy alone and scandalized with five children to raise on her own with whatever meager means she could scrounge in that day. She even graciously agreed to marry Will a second time as he attempted to redeem himself and pull himself out of his endless cycle of poor choices and unfortunate circumstances. His death was a sad metaphor for his life. He was run over in the street. Not surprisingly, no one in my family talked about Will. I only learned his story because my great aunt investigated and wrote a short biography of her father. I believe it was a daughter’s attempt to understand and reconcile with a father who brought so much pain into her life.

And thus, I return to the fact that humans of every time and place in history are human. In that, there is nothing new under the sun. In Judah and Tamar’s story, in Will and Daisy’s story, are two human beings navigating their own life journeys complete with the obstacles of personal failings, generational sin, relational struggles, and cultural obstacles. Sometimes we’re hampered by our own choices. Sometimes we’re stuck with circumstances that were not of our own making. Sometimes we struggle against the systems of culture, religion, community, and society that are lined up against us. It’s all part of our journeys and our stories. How I walk that journey will impact the legacy and the journeys of my physical and spiritual descendants.

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

Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 5)

[WW] Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 5) Wayfarer

With this episode, we’re going to continue our journey through the major sections of the Great Story. We pick it up at the end of Moses’ story and overview the continuation of the overall narrative through the “Historical Books” of the Old Testament.

This episode if brought to us by the letter “C”:

  • Conquest
  • Cycle of broken humanity
  • Crying for a king
  • Civil War
    • Chaos of power (in the Northern Kingdom)
    • Continuation of David’s line (in the Southern Kingdom)
  • Conquered
  • Captivity
  • Constructing the past

Trials, Gold, and Dross

So the Israelites who had returned from the exile ate it, together with all who had separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord, the God of Israel.
Ezra 6:21 (NIV)

On Sunday, after I gave the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers, Wendy and I were having our normal lunch date together. Wendy had given the message the previous Sunday. She shared the story of her journey through infertility. This past Sunday I spoke about secrets and my own experience with secrets that kept me spiritually imprisoned.

There was a common theme in our messages. We both slogged our way through long stretches of trial and difficulty, and we both experienced previously unknown depths of joy and freedom at the other end of our respective valleys.

As we dined and debriefed, we discussed a few of the things that some religious people cling to as if of vital importance. Things such as church membership and adherence to a particular denominational institution. For the two of us, such trappings hold very little importance. To a certain extent, I realized that our journeys and struggles through hard spiritual terrain had refined our perspectives on what it means to be followers of Jesus. Membership certificates and institutional inclusion are of very little importance to us compared to the more tangible daily realities of our own personal, daily spiritual trek among our community of Jesus’ followers.

In today’s chapter, the returned exiles complete their construction of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. There is a very small distinction in today’s chapter that is easily lost on a casual reader. The returned exiles are referred to as “Israelites.” When Jerusalem was besieged and the exile began, they were the nation of Judah. For hundreds of years prior to the exile, the tribes of Israel were separated in a bloody civil war. “Israel” was the northern kingdom. “Judah” was the southern kingdom. Now, upon return from their exile and the restoration of the Temple, they were simply “Israelites” along with Gentiles, like Ruth, who had chosen to follow their faith.

I couldn’t help but think that the experience of exile over 70 years changed some things for those who went through it. Old conflicts and prejudices fell by the wayside. Those who returned had a renewed understanding of what was truly important and what things simply didn’t matter all that much in the eternal perspective. That’s what exilic experiences and the spiritual struggle through valleys of pain, grief, and trouble will do for a person. It refines things. I’m reminded of Peter’s words to fellow believers scattered across the Roman Empire experiencing dreadful persecution:

May the thought of this cause you to jump for joy, even though lately you’ve had to put up with the grief of many trials. But these only reveal the sterling core of your faith, which is far more valuable than gold that perishes, for even gold is refined by fire. Your authentic faith will result in even more praise, glory, and honor when Jesus the Anointed One is revealed.
1 Peter 1:6-7 (TPT)

In the process of refining metal, which Peter uses as a metaphor, the gold remains while the “dross” (literally “scum on molten metal”) is removed as useless and worthless.

In the quiet this morning I find myself pondering those things that my trials have refined and revealed to be the gold of eternal importance and those things that my trials have revealed to be worthless scum in the grand scheme of things.

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.

 

chapter a day banner 2015