Tag Archives: Smack

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.

Trelawney, Talking Trash, and the Prophetic Twist

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Zechariah 9:9 (NRSVCE)

In the Harry Potter series is a character named Sybil Trelawney who teaches the students of Hogwarts the art of divining the future. What makes Professor Trelawney funny and endearing is the absolute certainty with which she consistently predicts the most dramatic and horrifying demises of her students while proving incapable of accurately predicting the future 99.9% of the time. Nevertheless, on at least two occasions (of which she is blissfully unaware) Professor Trelawney actually utters prophesies that are crucial to Harry and his conflict with the evil Lord Voldemort.

Reading the oracles and poetic writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets is not something most people enjoy. The language is strange, the kings and nations mentioned are foreign to us,  as are the circumstances the prophets are writing about. It’s easy to dismiss and ignore the prophets just as Harry and his fellow students roll their eyes and dismiss poor Professor Trelawney.

Be careful, however, because you just might miss something really important.

Back in Zechariah’s day, every nation had their version of prophets and oracles who would seek to divine God’s will and predict the future. Often, this was about whether their king, army and nation would be successful in battle, or in seeking vengeance and justice. Prophets perfected what we call on today’s athletic fields “talking smack.”  Do you ever see athletes on television jawing, taunting and trash talking their opponents in an effort to get inside their opponents head and psyche them out? Much of the prophets’ poems and oracles are simply a version of ancient political smack.

In today’s chapter, Zac’s oracle concerns neighboring nations and city-states who sought to thwart the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the  Temple of Solomon.  Zac’s prophetic message predicts that these neighborhood bullies are going down to God’s righteous defeat and that God is going to save, protect, and prosper His people.

But right in the middle of this trash talking talk of bloodshed, destruction, and doomsday Zac plugs in a strange poetic stanza. It stands out because it is so different from the rest of Zac’s oracle:

Lo, your king comes to you;
    triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

In the midst of a prophecy about overwhelming victory and annihilation over their many local enemies, Zac does not describe the triumphant victorious king of the Jews as riding in splendor on a chariot of gold. This isn’t a warlord king surrounded by armies with heralds riding in front shouting praise and glory. Zac reveals a king that stands in complete and stark contrast to the rest of the oracle. This king is humble and riding on a lowly donkey.

Of course, it was this prophetic verse that foreshadowed an important event that would happen 400 years later:

When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”

This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:

Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
    poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
    foal of a pack animal.”

The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”
Matthew 21:1-9 (MSG)

In an otherwise forgettable oracle intended to trash talk the neighboring teams who threatened their building project, the prophet Zechariah waxes Professor Trelawney-like and prophesies about the coming Messiah; a Messiah who doesn’t look anything like anyone expects.

This morning I’m thinking about the mysterious nature of the prophetic. The prophetic has always been a part of the human experience. The prophetic is part of our oldest myths and our greatest stories from Shakespeare to Harry Potter. Prophecy is listed by the Apostle Paul as one of the most important of spiritual gifts, despite the fact that it’s one of the least understood or defined.

The prophetic is slippery and strange. There is so much about it that isn’t logical and seemingly makes no sense. So much of it misses the mark altogether, and sometimes it is just plain silly. That is, until that moment when it is suddenly and unexpectedly prescient and poignant and mind-bending; Until it is absolutely crucial to the story like a Messiah who doesn’t look anything like anyone expects.

Talkin’ Smack

Goliath walked out toward David with his shield bearer ahead of him, 42 sneering in contempt at this ruddy-faced boy. “Am I a dog,” he roared at David, “that you come at me with a stick?” And he cursed David by the names of his gods. “Come over here, and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and wild animals!” Goliath yelled.

David replied to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel!
1 Samuel 17:41-46 (NLT)

Every boy who’s ever waged battle on the neighborhood playground knows the ancient art of intimidation. It has to be as old as Cain and Abel and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cain and his brother didn’t exchange a few words before Cain did the dastardly deed. Watch any sporting event and you will see the competitors constantly jawing at one another and exchanging trash talk on the court, the field, or the pitch.

I found it interesting this morning to realize that even David and Goliath talked a little smack. David let his words fly in defense of God before he let his stone fly. What a sight it must have been for the armies watching on as this shepherd boy refused to be intimidated by the nine foot giant warrior and talked right back.

Today, I’m thinking about the ways the world, our enemy, and others may try to intimidate us. Jesus said that we shouldn’t be surprised when people try to intimidate, speak evil and persecute those who follow. The song by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers is flitting through my mind this morning:

No, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of Hell
but, I won’t back down.