Tag Archives: King

Highest Authority

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Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.
Psalm 57:5 (NIV)

There are few stories within the Great Story that is as fascinating to me as that of David’s relationship with King Saul. Saul was the first King of Israel and he was the populist choice of the Hebrew people. Saul had all the looks of a great leader, but his heart was dark and troubled.

God told the prophet, Samuel, that he wanted Samuel to anoint His man for the job. It turns out that God’s man for the job was a shepherd boy, the runt of a large litter of sons of a man named Jesse. David made a name for himself as the walk-on rookie who killed the giant Goliath. Saul signs David as part of his team. David becomes best friends with Saul’s son, and he marries Saul’s daughter. Saul is David’s King, his General, his benefactor, and his father-in-law.

David is also anointed by God to ascend to Saul’s throne. Saul knows this, and his dark and troubled soul stir up a dangerous cocktail of emotions. Envy, jealousy, fear, insecurity, shame, and paranoia lead Saul spiraling down into a dark spirit of homicidal rage. David flees for his life. Saul places a bounty on David’s head and follows his destructive urges in seeking continually to kill his son-in-law and rival.

This goes on for years. 1 Samuel 24 tells the story of David and his men hiding deep in a huge cave in the desert of En Gedi. There thousands upon thousands of caves in the desert of En Gedi. Saul and his men are in pursuit of David and his merry band of outcasts. Saul needs to relieve himself, so he enters the cave where David is hidden in shadows.

This is David’s chance to kill the man who wants to kill him.

But, David refuses to do it.

God said that David was a man after His own heart, and in his heart, David respected that Saul was the anointed king of the time. David respected the spiritual weight of that. Samuel may have anointed David to succeed Saul, but David cared more about God’s will, God’s purposes, and God’s timing than he cared about being king. David knew that making the prophecy happen and forcing his ascension to the throne would spiritually corrupt the entire situation (By the way, this is just the opposite of the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which Macbeth and his wife try to force Macbeth’s prophesied ascension to the throne to very tragic ends). If God wanted David to be king, David believed, then God would make that happen in God’s timing according to God’s designs. David chooses not to kill Saul, but David does humbly confront Saul with the fact that he had his chance and he didn’t take it.

When Saul realizes that David says:

“May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.”

Saul retreats, but the darkness of his soul will soon be stirred up again. Nothing changes in this stalemate for several more years.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 57, is a song David wrote inspired by this very incident. David sings of being hunted and God’s deliverance. In the original Hebrew it is a balanced song of two sets of seven lines and a refrain. The refrain is the theme of the song. It’s the “one thing” that the song is really saying:

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.

David saw that God was the ultimate authority higher than the heavens. David respected that everything that happened was God telling His Great Story and to mess with that would be faith-less, not faith-full to God.

In the quiet this morning I can’t help but think about it being election day here in the United States. If you read some of the rhetoric on either side of the spectrum there’s not a person in America who doesn’t have the opportunity to feel hated and reviled by the “other” side. No matter the outcome, there will be heady cocktails of emotions being stirred. I find in the story of Saul and David a contrast of attitudes that speaks to the divergent paths of thought and emotion I can take today. In David’s song, I find an example for me to contemplate and to emulate.

I will do my civic duty. I will prayerfully vote my conscience and add it to the hundreds of millions of other votes being cast. I will bless and pray for those who are elected. I will bless and pray for those who are not. I will continue to live out my life, my work, and the humble little role God has for me in this Great Story. My loyalty and my appeal ultimately fall to a higher authority than the President of the United States, and that authority tells me to honor whoever is in that office. Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.

Romans 13:1-7

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

King of the Mountain

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God is king over the nations;
    God sits on his holy throne.

Psalm 47:8 (NRSVCE)

I think that the changing of the seasons brings back certain specific childhood memories. Here in Iowa the last few weeks have ushered in the harsh realities of winter. The snow has already begun to descend. In yesterday’s post I was thinking specifically about the memories of walking to-and-from school. This morning, it’s snow.

The cool thing for a kid growing up the city in Iowa was the way snow completely transformed the landscape. Not only did it layer everything with this thick blanket of white, but the snowplows and shovels created tiny mountain ranges of snow on every street corner, parking lot, playground, and driveway.

For kids this meant one thing: a game called “King of the Mountain!”

The game is simple. Climb to the top. Stake your claim as King of the Mountain, then get ready to take on all challengers your throne on the mountaintop of ice and snow. Go!! Seriously. Between King of the Mountain, public smoking, the ability for any child to buy cigarettes out of a vending machine, and the fact that seat belts were considered optional accessories that you stuffed into the crack between the seats so they wouldn’t poke you…How did we survive childhood in the 1970’s?!

Why did my brain go there this morning? Today’s chapter is Psalm 47 which was a song of enthronement. In all ancient Mesopotamian cultures the celebration of a king’s enthronement was a huge deal. There was a parade, a procession, loud music, an entire nation dancing, clapping, singing…think Kool & the Gang singing “Celebrate good times! Come on!” (Man, now my brain is stuck on Memory Ln.!)

The fascinating thing about this Hebrew song of enthronement is that the metaphor is that of God ascending His holy mountain (for the Hebrews that was Mount Zion where God’s temple was located) to be enthroned over all the earth, all the nations, all of creation.

The metaphor of God as king is one that that emerged during the time of the ancient monarchy of the Hebrews. The prophet Isaiah has his famous vision of being taken up into the throne room of God. The theme was written into the liturgical worship songs like Psalm 47. It is carried on through the entirety of the Great Story. The Messiah was pictured as king over the entire earth. After Jesus ascended to heaven, the apostles all referenced Jesus sitting at “the right hand of the Father” in heaven. Paul (who had his own wild vision experience of being taken up into heaven) referred to Jesus as “King of Kings,” and he wrote to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi:

Therefore God also highly exalted [Jesus]
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In the book of Revelation, John has a vision of the throne room of heaven where “The Lamb who was slain” sits on the throne.

Enthronement is a big deal in the Great Story, but the metaphor has very personal implications. When I became a follower of Jesus on a frigid Iowa winter night back in 1981, I knew that it was time for me to stop spiritually playing “King of the Mountain” with my own soul. I told Jesus that I was stepping down as king of my own life, and I invited Jesus to be enthroned in my heart and my life. I confess that I haven’t always been a perfect subject, but that spiritual reality has never changed for me over the last forty years. I have continually sought to give Jesus dominion on the throne of my life and pursue His purposes for me in this life journey.

And, what’s cool is that the metaphor doesn’t end there. Having spiritually abdicated and given Jesus the throne of my life, Jesus did not consider me an enemy, a threat, a usurper to be banished from the kingdom and taken out lest I try to take back the throne. No, I get adopted into the royal family. I am given a place, a role, an inheritance, and, in the Great Story, I am now referenced as a “co-heir” with Jesus. I have a place in the procession, at the king’s table, in the king’s family.

You know what that makes me think?!

[cue: Kool and the Gang]

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

The Story Behind the Song

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This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
    and was saved from every trouble.
Psalm 34:6 (NRSVCE)

Everyone has a story. In Monday’s post, I referenced pieces of my story that a lot of people don’t know. Along life’s journey, I’ve found that it’s very typical to only know pieces of other people’s stories. I’ve come to believe that real relationship begins when we begin to share and discover the lesser-known pieces of our respective life stories. Until we know one another’s stories, relationship remains somewhat in the shallows.

The truth can be said of characters in the Great Story. I find it common for people to assume that those told about in the Great Story are some kind of spiritual superheroes, but nothing could be further from the truth. With the exception of Jesus, I find that most every other character is tragically flawed like me, and I believe that’s the point.

David is mostly known for the oft-told story of him slaying Goliath, and that is typically told to children. I have observed that if people know anything else about him it’s that he was King, and perhaps it’s remembered that he had an adulterous affair with a woman named Bathsheba. We love a good scandal, don’t we?

There’s actually a lot to David’s story. While he was anointed as King as a kid (God instructed the prophet, Samuel, to anoint David the king), it would be decades before he actually ascended the throne. Years of David’s young adult life were spent on the run from the reigning king, Saul, and living in the wilderness. He had no real place to call home and, seemingly, everyone wanted him dead.

It was during those wilderness years that David went to a neighboring region called Gath. He was hoping to find an ally in the King there and as well as a safe place to reside from Saul’s henchmen, but his audience with the King of Gath suddenly went south. David realized in the moment that the King of Gath’s advisors had very little reason to provide him asylum while having every reason to serve up his head on a silver platter to King Saul. He’s alone inside the walls of the city surrounded and outnumbered by his armed enemies. How’s he going to get out of this alive?

David pretended to be certifiably crazy. He started acting like a mad man. He frothed at the mouth so spit was running down his beard. He put together such an impressive improv performance that the King of Gath wanted nothing to do with him and just wanted him thrown out of the city before whatever mental disease David had started spreading.

Having escaped with his life, David wrote a song to thank God for getting him out of a tight spot. That song is what we call Psalm 34 according to the liner notes.

Knowing the story adds a layer of context to the song lyrics, which creates added meaning for me as I read or listen. While I may never have been surrounded by armed enemies wanting to kill me (though at least once I’ve had an enemy who literally wanted to beat the crap out of me — but that’s another story), there are plenty of experiences along this life journey when I unexpectedly find myself in tight spots. David’s story, and his song lyrics, remind me that “this poor soul” can throw up a popcorn prayer and trust that God will hear me just as He did David.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Oracle

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Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
Psalm 21:8 (NRSVCE)

In the movie The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is told that he must visit “The Oracle” who is the person who will tell him if he is “the One.” I love how the movie builds up suspense about the identity of this powerful person only to find out that it’s a chain smoking African American grandmother baking cookies. Brilliant.

The word “oracle” comes from the Latin word meaning “to speak.” It’s same root word from which we get the word “oratory.” Oracle could refer both to the person and the message he or she uttered. Oracles in the ancient world were considered portals through which the divine spoke, typically predicting what was going to happen. An Oracle was different from a Seer, who interpreted signs kind of like the reading of tea leaves.

There is evidence of a specific type of oracle in the ancient world that was specific to battle and it was the “oracle of victory.” It was a prediction given to the king of what would happen in the battle. For the Hebrew people, prophets served as oracles and would predict the outcome if the king was proposing to ride out to battle an enemy.

In today’s psalm, David begins the lyrics of his song by praising God for all the God has done for him and acknowledging his trust in God. But then, in verse 8, the voice changes from “you are” to “you will.” The rest of the song is an oracle of victory, a song of faith that God will destroy David’s enemies.

One of the things I’ve learned to look for when reading through the texts of the Great Story is recurring patterns or themes. The theme I’ve noticed in the last few of David’s songs is the fact that the great king and warrior, the famed slayer of the giant Goliath, is intent on making God the focal point. David ascribes his victories to God. David’s oracle of victory is about what God is going to do. While David had every opportunity to bask in the spoils of his position and track record, he chooses time and time again to point all the attention and give all the credit to God.

That has me thinking about my own life, my accomplishments, my successes, my little victories. Do I want the attention on me, or do I want the attention on God? To take it even further, will I still trust God, praise God, and make God the focal point even in life’s defeats? I can’t help but think of the scene in The Matrix when the Oracle surprises and disappoints everyone by telling them what they didn’t want to hear. There’s a very similar story in 1 Kings 22 when the prophet Micaiah gives the king an oracle of defeat. Sometimes life delivers an oracle of victory, and sometimes it gives us an oracle of defeat. Am I willing to accept both, and trust God for the ultimate outcome?

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Faith or Flight

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In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
    ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains;

Psalm 11:1 (NRSVCE)

“If I really believe what I say I believe….”

Yesterday morning I delivered a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers, and that was the statement I used to press into the subject of hope in death. (It’s on YouTube here.). I mentioned that it has been equally helpful for me as I read the news each day in these chaotic times.

The lyrics of Psalm 11 are, once again, penned by King David during an equally chaotic and troubling time of his own reign. When David sings, “If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?” he is speaking specifically about the foundation of social order. In other words, the daily life of David’s kingdom was beginning to break down. Those advising King David were beginning to suggest that it was time for him to abandon the city and flee to a safe hiding place in the hills.

The notion of escaping the chaos and going to live somewhere else is not a foreign thought amidst today’s current events. I know those who have moved out of the country. Interestingly enough, I know those on both the left and the right who have/are considered leaving and living somewhere else. When you feel the very foundations of social order shaking, it’s a natural response.

And yet, if I really believe what I say I believe….

I can’t help but feel that David is whispering that same sentiment as he pens his lyrics.

He begins by affirming that God is his refuge, not a bunker in the hills.

He then affirms God is on the throne in heaven and fully aware of the current circumstances, including a knowledge of those causing the violent upheaval in David’s kingdom.

David then ends with a declaration of faith. “To see the king’s face” in the ancient near east was an expression of affirmation. It meant you had access to, and the favor of, the king who would hear your appeal and act on your behalf. In a time when monarchs regularly proclaimed themselves God in order to exercise power over their people, David once again humbles himself in acknowledging that he is a subject to the King of Heaven. David places his faith in having access to, and the favor of, his King.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of the many times I have written in these posts that I believe life is part of the Great Story that is being told from Genesis through Revelation. If I really believe what I say I believe, then the chaos and upheaval I’m currently reading about and experiencing through social media are part of the current chapter of the story we happen to be living in. If I really believe what I say I believe, then my job is to press on, day-by-day, in the role I’ve been giving of loving and proclaiming Love to those in my circles of influence. If I really believe what I say I believe then I can trust lyrics of the psalm I have tattooed on my right arm:

“[He who fears the Lord] will have no fear of bad news.
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”

A good reminder as I press on into another week. Have a great week, my friend.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Transition of Leadership

After the death of Jehoiada, the officials of Judah came and paid homage to the king, and he listened to them.They abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and worshiped Asherah poles and idols.
2 Chronicles 24:17-18 (NIV)

Along my life journey I’ve witnessed, or been part of, a number of leadership transitions. Churches, schools, civic organizations, business, clients, not to mention the transition of power our nation peacefully experiences every 2-4 years. Some transitions I’ve experienced have been positive experiences, some have not.

In today’s chapter the Chronicler relates some fascinating details about the reign of young King Joash of Judah. In the previous two chapters we learned that the entire royal family of David had been wiped out. Joash had been hidden away as an infant in the Temple of Solomon for seven years. Then the high priest, Jehoiada, let a coup and placed Joash on the throne.

Reading between the lines on the Chronicler’s papyrus, we see there may have been a bit of an ebb and flow to the relationship between Jehoiada and young King Joash, between monarch and priest, between politics and religion. Jehoiada was, no doubt, a powerful figure. He was the one who hid the infant and protected him. He was the one who plotted and carried out the coup. He was the one who put Joash on the throne. Jehoiada was the power behind the child king, and he even oversaw who Joash would marry and with whom the king would have children.

The king grows up and gives orders for a tax to be collected to repair Solomon’s Temple, but the King’s wishes are not immediately carried out. Jehoiada was the power behind the throne, and the Levites knew to take their orders from the high priest, not the king. Joash summons Jehoiada before him. Joash had always taken his commands from Jehoiada, now the young king was testing and exerting his own power and authority over Jehoiada. The high priest submits, but we as readers are left wondering just how these two powerful men managed their relationship with one another.

The Chronicler then tells us about another transition of leadership. The powerful religious leader, Jehoiada, dies. There is now a vacuum of religious leadership. Immediately, the “officials” of Judah (leaders of clans, businessmen, state officials. and etc.) swoop into that power vacuum and pay a visit to King Joash. They convince the King to loosen Jehoiada’s powerful stranglehold on local religion and support the resurgence of the local Canaanite gods. Joash does so despite many prophetic warnings. The Chronicler makes it clear that this doesn’t end well.

This morning I’m thinking about transitions of leadership and of power. Jehoiada saw to it that Joash was placed on the throne, but the Chronicler’s account leaves me believing that he may have looked upon the young monarch as a puppet to be controlled rather than a protegé to be mentored. The difference is monumental and the fact that there was no successor to Jehoiada with the authority to command respect of the King and his “officials” says that the high priest had equally not done an adequate job preparing for his successor and ensuring that the legacy of his leadership would continue.

I have been blessed and privileged to be in many different leadership positions in my lifetime. In the quiet this morning I’m taking stock of how I have handled the transition of power and leadership to others. The results, I confess, are mixed. In some cases I feel that I’ve done well, and in others I realize that, like Jehoiada, I’ve missed the opportunity to bless my successor and those under my leadership with a wisely planned transition. I can’t change the past, but I can ensure that I handle future opportunities with greater wisdom and grace. I pray I do so.

Have a great week, my friends!

 

“Divine-Right” Deceptions

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

Wendy and I have recently binged our way through Netflix’s original series The Crown. It is a dramatic interpretation of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it

One of the subtle themes in the storytelling is the British royal family’s understanding of their role as a “divine right” monarchy. It was very common for the royal families of Europe to view their respective reigns as being God’s appointed rulers. The Queen is not only viewed as a head of state but also head of the Church of England. Rulers taking on the mantel of divinity has a very long and storied tradition in human history. From Pharaohs of Egypt to Caesars of Rome the rulers of Empires have claimed to be gods or to have some divine “right” to rule.

This of course, stirs up all sorts of conflicting feelings, especially here in the culture of the States which was founded on a rejection of monarchy altogether. The founding fathers created a government that was, as Lincoln would put it four score and seven years later, “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Nevertheless, this theme of royals and nobles being better than the commoner, or not, still resonates in our storytelling.

Even Shakespeare used this as a device. Henry V was a divine-right monarch like the rest of the British kings and queens, but Shakespeare wrote the heroic “Hal” as a populist King of the people.” Cloaked and disguised as a common soldier, King Henry sits by the fire with his “common” men at arms an waxes on his own humanity:

I think the king is but a man, as I
am: the violet smells to him as it doth to me: the
element shows to him as it doth to me; all his
senses have but human conditions: his ceremonies
laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and
though his affections are higher mounted than ours,
yet, when they stoop, they stoop with the like
wing. Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we
do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish
as ours are: yet, in reason, no man should possess
him with any appearance of fear, lest he, by showing
it, should dishearten his army.

This all comes to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. Paul addresses those believers of Corinth who have become arrogant and have displayed an attitude of being better, more godly, more authoritative, and more spiritually noble than others believers. They were acting as some sort of “divine-right” authorities within the church.

Paul’s response is to point out that those who follow Jesus, all of us, have nothing spiritually that has not been graciously given to us by Christ. This is a cornerstone of our belief system. We don’t earn God’s favor. We don’t merit Jesus’ love, or forgiveness, or grace, or mercy, or salvation because of what we’ve done or not done. All we have is a gift of God given to all and for all to receive irrespective of gender, race, creed, socio-economic status, standing in society, education, age, or moral/immoral track record.

This morning I’m mulling over my own track record. Along my journey I know there have been times when I’ve spoken or acted out of spiritual arrogance. Some very specific examples spring to mind in my memories. Lord, forgive me. I’ve deceived myself and acted the part of “divine-right” authority from time to time. I’d like to think that age and experience have taught me humility, but they have also taught me that I easily cycle in and out of these things. “Ceremonies laid by” I’m just as human as everyone else, including Queen Elizabeth II.

The Need of King and Savior

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
Judges 21:25 (NIV)

We end the book of Judges with succinct  summary of the situation. There was no King or central authority. The loose confederation of tribes were spread out over hundreds of square miles. Each tribe co-mingled with the peoples and religions in their areas. The carefully prescribed laws and religious procedures that Moses had handed them became almost impossible to follow or enforce as there was no clear center for worship. The ark of the covenant was at Shiloh, but it was seen as a resting place more than a center of worship. It took a national crisis to get all the peoples to gather there.

After the heated battle between Benjamin and the other tribes, there is a frantic effort made to ensure that Benjamin remains a part of the nation. The bad blood, however, would never really go away. In later years when the tribe of Judah broke with the other tribes to form their own nation, the tribe of Benjamin would be the only tribe to go a long with them.

As we wrap up the book of Judges this morning, I’m thinking about the realities of the human condition. When left to ourselves without authority and rule of law, society quickly becomes a scary place. Lord of the Flies comes to mind. The book of Judges is a tough read. It is filled with unspeakable cruelties, violence, and cultural realities that are hard to fathom today. But, I believe that is the point of these chapters in the Great Story. The human condition left the people of Israel (like all of us) ultimately needing both savior and king.

The earthly example would soon show up in the person of a shepherd boy, musician, and poet who was good with a sling. The ultimate provision for the human condition was still a millennia away and would show up in that shepherd boy’s hometown, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.

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featured photo: drpopular via Flickr

Shocking Events Then and Now

“In those days, when there was no king in Israel….”
Judges 19:1a (NRSV)

The story in today’s chapter is one of those really challenging ones. It’s hard for a 21st century reader to wrap our heads around the every day realities of life in Judea 3,000 years ago. Life was brutal.  Life expectancy was short. Societal systems were infantile in comparison to the present. And still, there are important themes the author is trying communicate.

The past two chapters have begun with the phrase “In those days, when there was no king in Israel….” That’s not random comment. It speaks directly to why this story is being told. This period of the Judges was one in which there was no system of strong central leadership. The further we get into this period of time, the more the people began to clamor for Israel to have a king of their own. The story of that political transition is told in the the book of Samuel.

The shocking and violent story of the Levite and the gang-raped woman became an event that sparked societal upheaval and unrest. In the same way that events in Ferguson, MO sparked intense societal reaction over the past year and a half, so the events of today’s chapter will be like the pebble that unleashes an avalanche.

The author knows that this is shocking, gut wrenching reading. It still shocks us today to imagine the brutal events as we read. That was the point of telling this story. “Do you see how bad things had gotten?” the story asks us. “Do you understand how evil and violent we become when lawlessness reigns?”

I find myself pulled in two different directions as I ponder the story in today’s chapter. I’m grateful to live in a time and society that is, by comparison, far better than the one described in Judges. I live in a place where law and order offer the opportunity to live a long, full life in relative peace and safety.

As the same time, the shocking events described and the societal firestorm it sparks are ancient reminders to me of very current realities. The more things change the more they stay the same. As “advanced” as our society has evolved, we continue to deal with core human problems of hatred, rage, prejudice, violence, sexual violence,  misogyny, gang mentality, greed, and et cetera, and et cetera. Events similar to those we read about today were front page news from India just a short time ago.

The people in the book of Judges would grow to call for a king to make things better. People today are calling for a new president to make things better. Strong leadership can make things better for society, but it can’t change the human condition that lies at the very core of the societal problems. For that, I need a Savior and the transformation of heart, spirit and life that happens in relationship with Him.

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Mining Nuggets in a Boring Chapter

English: King Solomon in Old Age (1Kings 4:29-...
English: King Solomon in Old Age (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adoniram son of Abda (was) in charge of forced labor.

Solomon had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year.
1 Kings 4: 6b-7 (NIV)

 

Many people have told me over the years that they struggle to read the Old Testament because its ‘s boring. A chapter like the one today is probably a good example. Compared to the buttery, heart-felt lyrics of David’s Psalms, today’s chapter is dry toast.  The book of Kings was written as a historical record of Solomon’s reign. As such, it records of the names of his officials. But seriously, who really cares today who served as Solomon’s cook?

 

As I’ve read through these books over the years, I’ve learned to approach chapters like today’s with a certain frame of mind. You have to look for small details, repeated patterns, and names that are familiar. Sometimes these nuggets, when you put them together, become clues to a broader understanding of the context.

 

For example, today I noticed a few nuggets:

 

  • The description of Solomon’s kingdom is notably large and lucrative, especially compared to what his father David started with, and what the first king, Saul, had before David. Conclusion: David’s conquests were paying off, and Solomon was raking it in.
  • Solomon had TWELVE officials scattered around as district governors to provide the king and his household with provisions (not just food, it’s likely they also provided slave labor, military conscriptions, concubines for the kings sizable harem, livestock, building materials, and etc.). Conclusion: As I read through this and contemplated what it must have been like for the people in this district being forced to give up their stuff for the king’s pleasure, I suddenly remembered God giving a warning to the people through Samuel just two generations earlier. The people of Israel are beginning to experience exactly what God warned them:

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. 1 Samuel 8:10-18

 

  • Two of the 12 governors were sons-in-law, married to Solomon’s wives. Conclusion: A little nepotism has taken hold in the monarchy. History teaches us that political nepotism usually breeds favoritism, conspiracy, racketeering, poor management, and scandal. I’m seeing a tragic flaw emerging in Solomon’s wisdom.
  • David and Solomon were both noted for building their palaces and building the Temple, but I noticed that Adoniram is providing them with forced labor or slave labor (Adoniram’s has been at it a while, his name came up in 2 Samuel 20:24). Conclusion: Eventually forced labor, especially the forced labor of your own people, leads to civil unrest.

Taxation, nepotism, and slave labor. [Scratching my head, carefully avoiding the receding hairline] If I’m standing in Solomon’s sandals things seem pretty cushy. If I’m standing in the sandals of a common citizen on the outskirts of Gilead who just watched the king’s official walk off with my children, my livestock, and a two month’s supply of olive oil, I’m not exactly feeling the love.

 

I feel a storm cloud rising on the horizon.

Today, I’m thinking about how we sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees. This happens in families. This happens in business. This happens in churches. This happens in government. I’m thinking about broader implications of words, decisions, and actions. I’m praying for discernment to see the bigger picture around me, and for courage to make tough choices based on what I see and perceive.