Tag Archives: Justice

“Yet, I Will Rejoice”

"Yet, I Will Rejoice" (CaD Hab 3) Wayfarer

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NIV)

Today’s final chapter of Habakkuk contains the lyrics to a psalm that Habakkuk wrote in response to his two-question dialogue with God in the first two chapters. Habakkuk is an ancient multi-media prophecy with two chapters that are almost like the script of a play and ending with a song.

Habakkuk has been warned by God that He is going to bring judgment on His unrepentant people by bringing the Babylonians down upon them. Habakkuk would have known what this meant. The Babylonians, along with their neighbors the Assyrians, had a reputation for violent sieges that destroyed and plundered cities while violently killing the citizens within. But God also promised Habakkuk that the Babylonians themselves would face their own day of judgment.

As I read and pondered the prophet’s lyrics in the quiet this morning, there were a couple of things that struck me.

First, I couldn’t help but see echoes of John’s Revelations in the apocalyptic, doomsday images. Plague and pestilence in verse 5 brought the four horsemen of John’s apocalypse to mind. Earthquakes, mountains crumbling, along with other natural calamities were also in Revelations along with God arriving with wrath. So was John writing about Judah and Babylon, or was he writing about the end times? As I’ve observed before, the metaphors of prophetic and apocalyptic writing are layered with meaning. As I have often observed on this chapter-a-day journey, the answer is “yes/and.”

The second thing that came to mind as I meditated on Habakkuk’s psalm is that he knows God is going to first bring wrath upon His own people and then will eventually execute judgment on the Babylonians. Habakkuk, however, is just like me knowing that the end times will eventually come yet not knowing when. He’s ignorant. His psalm reminds God “In your wrath [on your people] remember mercy” (vs.2) and he gives a nod to God eventually delivering His people (vs. 13) but the rest of the song seems pretty focused on the evil Babylonians getting their just desserts.

I found this to be particularly human on Habakkuk’s part. He knows God is going to bring consequential wrath on the Hebrew people, but Habakkuk doesn’t want to think too much about that. He conveniently skips that part and jumps to God’s deliverance while he waxes apocalyptic about God’s wrath on the Babylonians for most of the song. I have to confess that I’m no different. I don’t want to think about suffering or having to endure hard times or experiencing judgment. I do, however, want to see swift judgment and fiery wrath raining down on those I have judged to be evil on my own personal scales of justice. As I’ve seen oft-quoted in the media of late: “Rules for thee but not for me.”

Yet it’s the end of Habakkuk’s song that, just like the psalmists before him, brings everything together in a pretty amazing statement of faith. He does embrace the notion that he may personally suffer as God makes good on His promised judgment. It’s the beautiful statement of faith I pasted at the top of this post

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

In the quiet this morning, I confess that I identify with these ancient words. We are living in strange times. Things are changing at a rapid pace. Times are difficult and I have no guarantees that even more difficult times aren’t ahead of us on this terrestrial ball…

yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

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

Love and Justice

Love and Justice (CaD Rev 16) Wayfarer

Then I heard a loud voice from the temple saying to the seven angels, “Go, pour out the seven bowls of God’s wrath on the earth.”
Revelation 16:1 (NIV)

This past Sunday, Wendy and I returned from spending almost two weeks at the lake. We are blessed to be able to work remotely and, it’s nice to get our work done and then be right there on the water when we’re finished. Over the past several trips to the lake we have been making our way through all of the Marvel Universe movies in chronological order of the Marvel Universe’s story arc. It’s been interesting to watch the movies in their proper order. There’s so much we picked up on in retrospect that was completely lost on us when we first saw each film in the theater.

I’ve personally loved this current age of superheroes in which Hollywood has made the comic book heroes of my childhood come to life on the screen. It’s been a lot of fun.

I remember in college when some buddies of mine introduced me to an entirely different genre of comic books. They were not the bright cape-wearing superheroes in spandex but dark and gritty heroes that stirred completely different kinds of emotions within me. They were anti-heroes. I confess that one of the anti-heroes that became a favorite of mine was the Marvel character Frank Castle, also known as The Punisher. Frank is a former cop whose family was brutally killed by the mob because they witnessed something they shouldn’t have seen. Frank becomes a vigilante bent on revenge. In a world in which corruption, power, and bureaucracy seem to protect evil from justice (e.g. we still don’t know who was on Epstein and Maxwell’s client list), there was something in the Punisher’s story that appealed to a very base desire for justice within me. I’ve asked myself many times what it is about the Punisher that resonates so deeply within me. Some would call the character of Frank Castle an “avenging angel.”

The metaphor of an “avenging angel” comes from the Great Story, of course. In particular, it comes from today’s chapter, which is why it brought the Punisher to mind. Seven final plagues, bowls of God’s wrath, are poured out on the earth, the unholy trinity [satan (dragon), anti-christ (beast of the sea), and anti-holy-spirit (beast from the earth)], and their unrepentant followers, including the “kings of the earth,” who continue to curse God through this period of judgment.

The bowls of wrath, once again, parallel Moses’ plauges on Egypt. The followers of the Unholy Trinity break out in festering sores, seas and rivers turn to blood, demonic frogs are unleashed, darkness descends, and hundred-pound hailstones fall from the sky. In the middle of these plagues, John records this:

Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say:

“You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,
    you who are and who were;
for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets,
    and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.”

And I heard the altar respond:

“Yes, Lord God Almighty,
    true and just are your judgments.”

Wait a minute. The altar responded? Yes! If I go back to Revelation 6:9 it is under the altar that the souls of the martyrs (the innocents who were killed simply because they were God’s people) cry out. In Revelation 8:3, the prayers and cries of the innocents, unjustly suffering under the dominion of the Prince of this World and the kingdoms of this world throughout the history of the world, rise like incense before God’s throne.

This is the day of reckoning. Evil, injustice, pride, arrogance, and corruption are getting their “just desserts.”

The words of the psalmist came to mind:

We are given no signs from God;
    no prophets are left,
    and none of us knows how long this will be.
How long will the enemy mock you, God?
    Will the foe revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
    Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!

Psalm 74:9-11 (NIV)

Today’s chapter is the answer to the psalmist’s question. “I will wait no longer. The day of my wrath has come.”

At the end of today’s chapter, the “trinity” of God’s judgments and plagues on the earth are complete. Three is one of God’s numbers, the number of the Trinity. Seven is the number of “completeness.” Three sets of seven metaphorically “complete” God’s judgment on the earth.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded that the Great Story is a story of good versus evil. On this earthly journey, I have encountered both good and evil. In the news and in my social media feed I see both good and evil. The Great Story reveals God who is good, which means God is both loving and just. The final chapters of the Great Story tell of evil being finally and justly dealt with, once and for all.

And, I confess, this appeals to that same part of my soul that identifies with Frank Castle’s story in The Punisher.

In the meantime, this wayfaring stranger continues to press on in this earthly journey, one day at a time, following Jesus and determined to love my enemies and bless those who curse me, even as my soul cries out for justice on the earth.

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

Justice

 

Justice (CaD Rev 10) Wayfarer

I took the little scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Revelation 10:10 (NIV)

Over the past couple of days, I have been watching a documentary about Roman Catholic priests who committed terrible acts of child abuse and subsequent horrific crimes to cover it up. The institutional church also aided in stonewalling the victims, as did the local authorities. There have been multiple times that I’ve come close to turning it off and walking away. It’s hard to watch.

Our fallen world is full of injustice. It always has been. And, the institutional church has been complicit. Just a few weeks ago the Southern Baptist Convention announced the results of an independent investigation which revealed that the denomination had hidden countless acts of sexual abuse by pastors and volunteers for decades. Even in the conservative small town where we live, there has been scandal and cover-up.

Our children’s generation has championed social justice, and they’ve been critical of previous generations of believers, and the institutional church, for not doing enough to address injustice. My ears and my heart are open to this critique. This world will never be found wanting as it relates to the need for justice. The Great Story is filled with cries for justice from Abel’s blood to the prophets, Job, the psalmists, and Jesus.

And that brings me to Revelation. The judgments envisioned and prophetically predicted for the end times are God’s judgment on a corrupt, unjust, and unrepentant world.

Today’s chapter is an interlude between the sixth and seventh “trumpet” judgments. A giant angel descends to earth holding a small scroll. John is told to eat it. It tastes like a treat from the dessert bar, but once it’s finished it turns his stomach sour. The prophetic words of the scroll are what John is told to proclaim and prophetically predict. The final stomach-churning judgments. Seven bowls of just reckoning and Judgment Day.

Kind of like the documentary I’ve been watching, it would be easy to shut the book and walk away. Revelation is not an easy read. But, it’s a necessary read in understanding the whole of the Great Story.

In the quiet this morning, I circle back to the stories of adults wracked with pain and anger because they were victimized by men who were supposed to be God’s servants. On one hand, it has my heart crying out for Judgment Day. On the other hand, I’m reminded of my own sins, my own complicities, and the injustices I’ve not only failed to address, but to which I’ve contributed either by word, act, or omission.

I hear the question of Jesus’ followers echoing in my heart: “Who then can be saved?”

“With man it is impossible,” Jesus replied, “but with God all things are possible.”

I sit in the quiet and ponder what this means for me on this day. The words of the prophet Micah rise within my spirit, words that Micah proclaims are God pleading his just case to the mountains and the hills:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God.

And so, I enter another day of this earthly journey intent on doing so.

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.

Tribal Instinct and Higher Law

Tribal Instincts and Higher Law (CaD Jud 20) Wayfarer

But the Benjamites would not listen to their fellow Israelites.
Judges 20:13b (NIV)

My tribe.

I’m a member of a number of “tribes.” The tribe of my family. The tribe of my community. The tribe of my high school classmates with whom I grew up. The tribes of my favorite college and professional sports teams. There’s the tribe of those who hold similar worldviews. And, there’s my national tribe. There’s even my tribe of fellow Jesus followers.

I couldn’t help but ponder all of my tribal instincts as I read today’s chapter. Which is the continuation of the saga that began in yesterday’s chapter. Shocked by the story of the Levite whose concubine had been gang-raped until she died by some men of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin, the other eleven tribes muster their armies and march on Gibeah to demand justice (this is a tribal instinct). The tribe of Benjamin closes ranks and refuses to give them up (which are also classic tribal instincts) and civil war erupts (tribal instincts often lead to violence). Benjamin is ultimately defeated and their towns burned.

The author of Judges is wrapping up his book with this story, which will conclude in the following chapter. His stated purpose is to show how the lack of a king to provide strong authority and leadership leads to disastrous consequences. Yesterday’s horrific crime was an act of depraved lawlessness. Today’s chapter reveals the lack of national justice as tribal instincts rule over inter-tribal relationships. Benjamin refuses to allow the perpetrators from their tribe to be held accountable for their crime. The lawlessness and lack of justice lead to a breakdown in unity among the tribes and a bloody eleven-against-one tribal battle leaves the towns of Benjamin decimated. Everyone loses.

As I pondered these events in the quiet this morning, I once again thought about them on both the societal level and the personal level. Like yesterday, I couldn’t help but think about how the ancient Hebrew tribes were behaving like gangs behave, like feuding crime families behave, and like rival sports fan(-atics) behave. Despite all of the advancements we enjoy in our civilized society with the rule of law, our human “tribal instincts” remain very strong. When inflamed, reason quickly shuts down and our base instincts can quickly spin out of control to tragic ends that only perpetuate societal problems. I could think of many examples in current events when “tribal instincts” could not be controlled by the rule of law and the justice system.

At a personal level, I once again can’t walk away from today’s chapter without gratitude for the moral, relational, and behavioral guardrails that I have as a follower of Jesus, who not only expects me to abide by and submit to governing authorities but also asks me, and expects me, to go beyond mere rule-keeping and submit to the higher Law of Love, which leads to forgiving those who’ve wronged me, praying for and blessing those who persecute me, loving my enemies, going the extra mile, and being sacrificially generous.

I am called to suppress my tribal instincts, and submit to the higher Law of Love.

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

Justice Then and Now

Justice Then and Now (CaD Jos 20) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.
Joshua 20:1-3 (NIV)

Some of our most epic stories have ridiculously high body counts. I’ve had the joy of seeing many of Shakespeare’s plays produced on stage. His tragedies, in particular (e.g. Hamlet, Macbeth) end with seemingly everyone in the play dead. The same with the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Romeo and Juliet. The same is true in more modern epics like the Godfather trilogy in which warring families endlessly kill one another. Game of Thrones also found creative and nasty ways to rack up the body counts. Even the climactic final chapters of Harry Potter contained the death of some of my most beloved characters.

Throughout history, our epic stories are reflections of our humanity, complete with its deepest flaws and tragic ends. Ever since Abel’s blood cried out, murder, death, and vengeance have been a part of human tragedies.

In today’s chapter, God reminds Joshua of a rudimentary system of justice outlined in the law of Moses. Knowing that tragic deaths could often result in violent, systemic, and generational blood feuds between families, clans, and tribes, Cities of Refuge were designated. If a tragic death occurred unintentionally yet a person was accused of murder, the accused could flee to one of these cities of refuge. The town protected the accused from acts of vengeance until a trial could be held by the tribal assembly and a verdict rendered. It was rudimentary, but it provided a time-out so that hot tempers could cool off and vengeance could be stalled in order for justice to be carried out.

As a student of history, I have often read about the historical implications that the Law of Moses had on humanity. It’s the recognized seminal code of law on which our own system of justice is built. No human system of justice is perfect, just as no human system of government is perfect. But in the story of the Hebrews, I see God prescribing a huge step forward toward a more just society.

So what does this have to do with me here in my 21st-century life journey? First of all, I’m grateful to have very little need for a justice system thus far on my life journey. I am blessed to have lived what amounts to a relatively peaceful life. I take that for granted sometimes, and so I whisper a prayer of gratitude in the quiet this morning.

I also recognize as I meditate on the chapter that justice is more pervasive in the human experience than the weighty matters of manslaughter and capital murder. Justice is a part of every human relationship and interaction. As a follower of Jesus, I can’t ignore that He calls me to be just, generous, loving, and merciful in every relationship. Jesus taught that In God’s kingdom:

  • Cursing another person is as serious as murder.
  • Lust is as serious as adultery.
  • I shouldn’t worship God if I’ve got an interpersonal human conflict that needs to be resolved.
  • I am to forgive, as I have been forgiven, and then keep forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, and forgiving, as and when necessary.
  • When cursed by others, I am to return blessings.
  • When asked for a favor, I am to go above and beyond what was asked.
  • As far as I am able, I am to live at peace with every person in my circles of community and influence.

And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s just a top-of-mind list that came to me in the quiet.

And so I enter another day in the journey, endeavoring to be a person of love, mercy, generosity, and justice in a world that has always desperately needed it at every level.

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

Mob Justice

Mob Justice (CaD Matt 27) Wayfarer

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
Matthew 27:20 (NIV)

Wendy and I are creatures of habit. We typically begin each day perusing the news on our iPads as we drink our blueberry spinach smoothies (mine sweet, hers sour) and drink coffee. Quite often we remind one another of a truth that one of her favorite professors at Central College branded into her brain: “You only see what the camera wants you to see.”

News media loves to cover crowds of protestors and mobs rioting, especially if there’s destruction or violence. “If it bleeds it leads” as they say. However, even mobs and protestors can be created for visual, social, and political effects.

Most of us never think about it, but it is no secret that mobs can be bought. The BBC did a story about man in Pakistan who does it for a living. “Gathering a mob – what’s so difficult about that?” he says. “One phone call and a hundred people will come, they can throw stones till nothing is left and if that doesn’t work, it costs very little to buy 10 litres of petrol and set things on fire.” And according to the L.A. Times there’s even a firm in Beverly Hills which will organize a protest for you, though I’m guessing it might cost you a little more than in Pakistan. We’re talking Beverly Hills, after all. There’s also an interesting article in Cracked providing a first-person account of a professional protestor.

For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the final week of Jesus’ life is the contrast of the crowd shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” on Sunday, and the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday morning. The longer I’ve studied the text, the more convinced I am that the mob shouting for Jesus’ execution was no accident.

The chief priests and elders had already broken a number of their own laws by the early morning hours that they brought Jesus to the Roman Governor, Pilate. Hebrew jurisprudence held that you couldn’t arrest anyone in the dark of night, nor could you have a trial at night. The verdict was already decided by the time they held the third session of their kangaroo court as dawn was breaking because it was required that you could only sentence someone to death in the light of day.

The religious power brokers were in a hurry to get the deed done. Friday at dusk was not only the beginning of their precious weekly Sabbath, but it was also Passover week. The rushed, clandestine mockery of justice was necessary to have Jesus hanging on a cross as quickly as possible and to ensure it was a done deal before the Passover crowds who’d been singing Jesus’ praises had finished their breakfast and made their way to the Temple. These were powerful, wealthy, and politically connected men who were running the Temple racket. They would have left nothing to chance. They’d already drummed up false witnesses in the middle of the night to testify against. Jesus. It’s likely they knew how to make a small investment of shekels to hire a mob to ensure Pilate perceived that executing Jesus was the politically shrewd call.

In the quiet this morning, I think about our daily breakfast conversations and perusal of the news. One of the things I’ve observed since the dawn of the internet is how quickly things can trend before any facts are known. Not only do we “see only what the camera wants us to see” but increasingly I realize that algorithms ensure “I only see what I want to see.” People are accused, tried, convicted, and executed in the internet court of public opinion in no time at all. Never have I found Jesus’ instruction to His disciples so apt when He sent them out into the world by themselves: “Be shrewd as a serpent, gentle as a dove.”

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

Smack-Talk

Where now is the lions’ den,
    the place where they fed their young,
where the lion and lioness went,
    and the cubs, with nothing to fear?
Nahum 2:11 (NIV)

When I was a younger man, I enjoyed being part of groups of friends who would compete in on-line pools in which we tried to pick which teams would win each week. I listened to a lot of sports radio while I was on the road. But, I grew weary of the constant braggadocio, belittling of others, and never-ending “smack-talk” in which people played this kind of verbal “king of the mountain.” They would gloat over the fans of the teams they hate, until the tables turned and the gloating went the other way. It was stupid. So, I still enjoy being a fan of my favorite teams, and I find it fun to casually follow them. Otherwise, I try to avoid the world in which sports is taken seriously.

That sub-culture of smack-talk in sports came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter because Nahum’s entire prophetic poem is an ancient version of talking smack against his people’s greatest enemy, Assyria. Choose your favorite sport, Assyria was the big-market dynasty that never loses and has been dominant forever. Nahum is part of a small market team that had a few good seasons back in the day but has been nothing but a doormat ever since.

If a fan was going to talk smack against the New York Yankees, let’s say. You’d want to take well-known things about the Yankees and then turn them into negatives:

“The house that Ruth built will be reduced to rubble.”
“Black pinstripes will turn blood red when they are slaughtered.”
“Aaron will be ‘Judged’ and found wanting.”

That’s exactly what Nahum is doing with Assyria, thought it’s easily lost on modern readers.

When Nahum writes:

The Lord will restore the splendor of Jacob
    like the splendor of Israel,
though destroyers have laid them waste
    and have ruined their vines.

He’s alluding to Assyria’s earlier domination over the northern tribe of Israel and Assyria’s insult-to-injury tactic of destroying all of an enemy’s vines so that they will have no wine to drown their sorrows. Nahum is proclaiming that the little underdog will rise again, while the mighty dynasty of Assyria is coming down.

When Nahum writes:

The shields of the soldiers are red;
    the warriors are clad in scarlet.

He’s referencing a common Assyrian boast of their shields and robes dripping with their enemies’ blood. Nahum is turning the tables, saying it will be Assyria’s blood coating the shields and robes of their enemy.

When Nahum writes:

The river gates are thrown open
    and the palace collapses.

He’s referencing the network of reservoirs and irrigation canals in and around Nineveh. When the dams are opened the river floods, making the Nineveh palace weak and compromised.

When Nahum writes:

Plunder the silver!
    Plunder the gold!
The supply is endless,
    the wealth from all its treasures!

He’s referencing the incredible wealth of Nineveh which they hoarded by plundering other peoples. This time, it will be a conquering army that plunders all of their treasures. By the way, in the late 20th century the tombs of Assyrian queens were discovered. Click here to view an online book that catalogs the hoard of gold and treasures they found (scroll past page 220 or so to see the images). It gives you an idea of the treasure that awaited those who conquered Nineveh.

When Nahum writes:

Where now is the lions’ den,
    the place where they fed their young,
where the lion and lioness went,
    and the cubs, with nothing to fear?

Ashurbanipal defeating a lion.

He’s alluding to the fact that Assyrian kings were closely associated with lions. Ashurbanipal, who was likely on the throne as Nahum is writing, was often depicted with lions or hunting lions. Statues of him always show him holding a lion. Nahum is saying that “the lion’s den” of Nineveh will be desolate after their defeat.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about how hollow Nahum’s smack-talk must have sounded when he wrote it. No one could have imagined Assyria’s defeat, and Nahum would have been laughed at and mercilessly derided for suggesting such a thing.

But, he was right. He might not have been right in the moment, but he saw the handwriting on the wall. He would be proved right in time.

That’s the way it is as a follower of Jesus. Having faith in justice and believing that the Great Story will unfold as prophetically predicted rings hollow for most people. You can find plenty of people who laugh and shake their heads. And, it neither surprises me nor do I ever think that will change. Still, I believe that justice will prevail one day and that Love wins, just as Jesus claimed it would.

But hey, I’m a Cubs fan. I’ve learned that “someday” does actually arrive.

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

Faith in Justice

Faith in Justice (CaD Na 1) Wayfarer

The Lord is good,
    a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
    but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh;
    he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.

Nahum 1:7-8 (NIV)

The world has watched in horror the past week-and-a-half as Afghanistan quickly fell into the hands of the Taliban. No matter which side of the political aisle one stands, and setting aside the argument of whether NATO forces should have been at all, there is no escaping the brutal realities of life under the Taliban. It’s been hard to read and hear the eye-witness accounts. A woman shot in the street for not wearing a burka. Another woman burned alive because she was considered a bad cook. When a mother is willing to throw her own baby over barbed-wire in an effort to ensure that he/she will have a life elsewhere, it tells me something.

Much of the story of what we refer to as the Old Testament is really about how one people, the Hebrews, lived and survived throughout several centuries in which one empire after another sought to control the world: Egyptians, Medes, Persians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans.

The ancient prophet, Nahum, lived in a time when the Assyrian Empire was the largest the world had seen to-date. Its capital city, Nineveh, was the largest city on the planet. He was probably writing his prophetic poems during the reign of Assyria’s last great king, Ashurbanipal (see featured photo). The Assyrian army was particularly brutal. Ashurbanipal’s records speak of him flaying enemies (removing the skin off of bodies) and draping the human skins over piles of corpses and city walls. The Assyrian armies would leave piles of dismembered limbs and dead bodies impaled on stakes as calling cards telling everyone they’d been there.

Enter Nahum, a prophet who both seeks to comfort his people and encourage them to trust God, but who most warns the Assyrians/Nineveh that God will see to it that their mighty empire will fall. In today’s opening poem, Nahum establishes God as both kind and stern. He predicts Ninevah’s fall and Judah’s joy when it does.

The Great Story is layered with recurring themes. Justice is definitely one of them, and Nahum is a mouthpiece for God’s message that the mighty empire of Assyria/Nineveh with its record of violent oppression and brutality will not last. Their just downfall is coming. But that same message also exists on a grand scale of the larger eternal epic of the Great Story. The night before Jesus’ crucifixion, He tells His followers that “the prince of this world stands condemned.” The end of the Great Story is about eternal justice on a cosmic scale. Wrongs are made right. Justice prevails. Love wins.

In the meantime, the story continues. The journey goes on, and the kingdoms of this world perpetuate injustice, violence, and brutality. Jesus tells His followers to be agents of a very different Kingdom marked by blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, the mourning, peacemakers, the meek, those who hunger for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the persecuted. He asked me to be marked not by power, anger, vengeance, violence, hatred, but love that is manifested in joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Being a follower of Jesus is a faith journey, and that faith includes believing that justice will prevail, just it did for Nahum. After Ashurbanipal’s reign the Assyrian Empire quickly fell apart. Its decline was swift and historians argue to this day how could so quickly fall apart and recede. So, I believe, the end of the Great Story will come just as prophesied.

In the meantime, I press on doing what I can to act justly and with love. One simple agent of a different Kingdom journeying amidst the kingdoms of this world in faith that justice will ultimately prevail, and that Love wins.

Human Systems

Human Systems (CaD Ps 122) Wayfarer

There stand the thrones for judgment,
    the thrones of the house of David.

Psalm 122:5 (NIV)

I am happy to say that I have had very little experience with the judicial system along my life journey. Only once have I been sworn in to testify before a judge. I’ll be happy for it to never happen again.

That said, a system of justice has always been a cornerstone of human civilizations. In the ancient Near East, justice typically began and ended with the king who sat on the throne, though there were often larger systems set up in order to disperse the workload so that it didn’t fall solely on the monarch to hear every little dispute.

This is exactly what Moses was dealing with when his father-in-law, Jethro, visited him in Exodus 18. Moses was hearing every dispute from early morning until late at night. Jethro told him to create a judicial system and appoint judges to hear all of the cases, and only the hard cases would work their way up to Moses.

For the ancient Hebrew tribes making pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the seasonal religious festivals, one of the side-benefits to the visit was to bring judicial issues to be decided. It was common for there to be a judgement seat or throne at the gate of the city where these judicial matters were heard and settled.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 122, is another ancient Hebrew pilgrimage song. In the lyrics of this song, the pilgrim is standing at the gates and he sees the thrones of judgment where the pilgrim can find justice. The lyrics then pray a blessing over the city so that the entire nation, including the pilgrims and their families, may live in peace and security.

In the quiet this morning, my heart and mind are meditating on two things that I’ve observed along this life journey, three things I’ve concluded. First, there will never be a perfect system of government or justice if human beings are involved. There is corruption in every human system of government and justice. Based on my experiences and observations, I believe it unreasonable and foolish for me to expect otherwise. This leads to my second observation. The best human systems of government and justice provide checks and balances to help protect the system from corruption and address corruption when it occurs. And, when the system fails to address and correct corruption it is my responsibility to do what I can within my power, citizenship, and rights to address it myself via the voting booth, free speech, and free assembly. Some systemic corruption gets addressed and corrected. Other systemic corruption continues unabated and is even accepted and praised by those who benefit from it. When I see that, I refer myself back to my first observation.

Interestingly, Jesus’ teaching had very little to say with regard to human systems of government and justice. His mission was not to change the kingdoms of this world but to instill the Kingdom of God into the hearts of individuals, into my heart, that I might bring that Kingdom into the human systems in which I interact every day. Jesus addressed individuals with the expectation that I should conduct myself in such a way as to deal honestly, honorably, and justly in my own interpersonal relationships and dealings. To serve others, and consider others more important than myself.

I’m not perfect, but I’m endeavoring to, once again, get better at it today.