Tag Archives: Warrior

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

Blind Spots (and Parenting)

I have the blessing this weekend of spending time with a friend and his son. It’s a rite-of-passage weekend. It is a time to empower, launch, and let go. Every parent has his or her blind spots, but I am so thankful for those who are willing to confess this, address it, and work to shed Light on the blind spots even after their children are launched. This post about King David’s parenting “blind spots” has had a lot of traffic in the five years since I first published it. I’m sowing it out there again today, and praying for good soil.

When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children do not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines and children with most all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that we never see David telling his children “no” nor do we see him discipline them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring of not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved firstborn son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light on our time and attention to addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

Today’s chapter seems perfectly timed as I’ve been made painfully aware of a blind spot in my life. If you’re reading this, and are a person who prays, please say a prayer for me as I address it.

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

Warrior’s Cry

Matthew Warrior

My friend Matthew and I are putting together a workshop for men called “More Than Conquerors” next month at Westview Church in Waukee. We originally did the workshop a few years ago in Pella so we’re in the process of updating it for a new audience. The basic idea is that as a man I’m supposed to experience this sense of being a winner, a victor, and God says I’m “more than a conqueror,” but then I get totally overwhelmed by the fact that the IKEA instructions have no words. So, we dig into that dilemma with the guys.

Yesterday we shot some media for promotional material. I had Matthew (who is a rather gentle, somewhat introverted Marriage and Family Therapist) put on war paint and got him to give me his best warrior scream for this photo.

I liked the result.

Light in Multiple Messages, Layered Metaphors

Sir John Hamelin effigy Wymondham, England
Sir John Hamelin effigy Wymondham, England

When I snuff you out, I will cover the heavens
    and darken their stars;
I will cover the sun with a cloud,
    and the moon will not give its light.
All the shining lights in the heavens
    I will darken over you;
    I will bring darkness over your land,
declares the Sovereign Lord.
Ezekiel 32:7-8 (NIV)

In today’s chapter, God wraps up the seven prophetic messages given to Ezekiel against Egypt. And, the thing that strikes me as I read this morning is metaphors and word pictures, layer upon layer of meaning.

First of all, there is the number seven. I have mentioned before that across God’s Message, seven is the number of completion. There were seven days to complete creation. There were seven seals on the scroll in Revelation to complete God’s judgement. Within the scroll there were seven trumpets and seven bowls. The number seven has even deeper roots when you begin to study the Hebrew language. The fact that there are seven prophetic messages for Egypt is no coincidental. It is a metaphorical message pointing to God’s complete and perfect judgement again Pharaoh/Egypt.

Then there is the theme of darkness and light in the verses I’ve pasted above. Darkness carries with it the sense of separation from God. In creation there was darkness over the surface of the deep immediately contrasted by God’s first act of creation: Light. There was darkness in the plagues of Egypt in the Exodus. Darkness fell over the Earth the day that Jesus was crucified. The same darkening of the heavens described by Ezekiel in the judgement of Egypt is also present in John’s vision of the end times. We know from human experience, just as a child cries for a night light at bedtime, that a descent into darkness is an ominous sign.

The final prophecy against Egypt is a list of other great armies who have fallen in defeat. Ezekiel describes them laying with their hordes “in the pit.” What fascinates me about the imagery is the description of warriors, hordes, and burial practices:

Meshek and Tubal are there, with all their hordes around their graves. All of them are uncircumcised, killed by the sword because they spread their terror in the land of the living. But they do not lie with the fallen warriors of old, who went down to the realm of the dead with their weapons of war—their swords placed under their heads and their shields resting on their bones—though these warriors also had terrorized the land of the living.

Ezekiel describes “the fallen warriors of old” buried with their weapons. The swords were placed beneath their heads, shields resting over them. Over the centuries, most cultures have had prescriptive burial practices for their warriors. As a boy growing up I was taught about my maternal ancestor, Sir John Hamelin, who lies entombed in effigy in a church in England. The sculpted tomb depicting him as he lay wrapped in chain mail, his feet crossed, his shield covering his body. This type of practice has been customary since early civilization. Ezekiel’s point is clear: When Egypt falls to Babylon the destruction will be so swift and complete that no one will be left to give them the carefully prescribed and celebrated burial of a warrior.

This morning I am, once again, amazed at the layers of message and metaphor given by the prophets. There is almost a desperation in the depth and breadth of it as if God is trying every possible means of communication to get through to the listener. If one word picture doesn’t work then let’s try a different approach. Human beings, myself included, are notoriously given to blindness of that which is staring right at us (e.g. Me: Sweetie, have you seen my keys? Wendy: You mean the keys you’re holding in your hand? Me: Doh!). Every one of us is given to the dark which comes with spiritual blindness. It is not strange that we need things repeated to us in diverse ways before we see the Light.

Today, I’m thankful for a Creator who ceaselessly reveals Light in endless ways.

Warriors to Writers

American troops in an LCVP landing craft appro...
American troops in an LCVP landing craft approach Omaha Beach 6 June 1944. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sons of Ulam were brave warriors who could handle the bow. They had many sons and grandsons—150 in all. 1 Chronicles 8:40 (NIV)

I remember well the conversations between boys on the playground of Woodlawn Elementary School. There is something God instilled in boys that we begin to measure one another by physical strength and prowess at a young age. When comparisons on the playground ended in some kind of dead heat, the arguing escalated to comparing fathers, grandfathers, and ancestors for bragging rights. Those bragging rights often rested on military service, especially those whose male ancestors fought in a war.

I admit that, at the time, I always feared this escalation of generational military comparison. My friend, Scott, had an actual saber from one of his forebears who served in the Civil War. That was the ultimate trump card. As far as I knew, there wasn’t too much of the warrior spirit to brag about on either side of the family. My uncle was a navy man in the Korean war, but being a cook on a landing craft wasn’t about to go over big with the boys on the playground. My maternal grandfather served in the Civil Defense during WWII, but having a helmet and billy club to defend Des Moines from the Imperial Forces of Japan wasn’t exactly the stuff of playground legend either. I still remember that billy club. It was made from a sawn off pool cue, but that didn’t compare to a Civil War saber.

As I’ve been reading through the genealogies of the tribes of Israel the past week, I’ve noticed that “mighty warriors” get called out quite often by the Chronicler. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same. And, I get it. A few weeks ago our country celebrated Memorial Day followed by an apt commemoration of D-Day. We honored the warriors, both men and women, who put themselves on the front lines to defend our country, our culture, our freedom, and our values from those who have sought to take that away.

Around 450 B.C. when the scribe was first penning the genealogies of the book of Chronicles, I believe things were far more precarious than anything we know in America today. City states and villages were under constant threat of raids and attacks. The Chronicles were written after both Israel and Judah had suffered destruction and exile at the hands of Assyria and Babylon. “Mighty Warriors” who could defend a village, town, or tribe were honored because they were an every day insurance policy against being raided, pillaged, tortured and killed.

Everyone who knows me knows that I am passionate about the arts, but it is not lost on me that the freedom and affluence which affords me the luxury of being able to explore every medium of art was made possible by the blood sacrifice of warriors. I have always heard versions of the quote, “I was a soldier, so my son can be a farmer, so his son can be a poet.” I did a little digging to find the source of that quote and found it predicated on a letter our American founder, John Adams, wrote to his wife, Abigail:

I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy.  My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce, and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine.
Letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780

Today, I’m thankful for the warriors, leaders, farmers, teachers, and businesspeople who paved the way for writers, poets, musicians, artists, actors, and playwrights to work in peace and freedom.

Prepared for Success: Connecting the Dots

david-warrior-and-kingKing David dedicated these articles to the Lord, as he had done with the silver and gold from all the nations he had subdued…. 2 Samuel 8:11 (NIV)

Yesterday I was in my client’s office and he was sharing with me a little bit about his background. He took me through a brief overview of his professional journey and resume. At the end of it, he had connected the dots to reveal how his entire career had uniquely prepared him for his current role in his company and industry. Laughing, he told me “I guess I learned a thing or two along the way.”

I thought about that conversation this morning as I read today’s chapter. David was on a roll. Bent on expanding and establishing his kingdom, his energies were focused on conquest. Connecting the dots, I recognize how all those painful years on the run from Saul now benefitted him greatly. Those difficult years prepared him uniquely to be a successful leader. He had been forced to live in foreign territories and had gathered around himself an international military team. He knew how to lead a diverse group of men. His understanding of neighboring nations, their politics, their militaries, and all of the geopolitical nuances of the region allowed him to be shrewd in his decisions as a general and a king. Like my client, David had learned a thing or two along the way.

I have to believe that all of those years depending on God for daily strength, courage, provision and perseverance also prepared David with humility. He knew what it was like to be an outlaw living life in a cave. Now that he was king and the military victories were stacking up David had not lost sight of God who made those victories possible. The trophies of victory he dedicated to God, refusing to take the glory for himself.

Today I am reminded to place credit where credit is due in my own life and victories. Like my client, like David, I can connect the dots in my journey and see how God has led me to this place. I’ve learned a thing or two as well, and have been prepared for my calling. Though my victories are relatively small and insignificant in the scheme of things, there is no doubt that I have been richly blessed. God has been good to me and I never want to lose sight of that nor take credit for what has been graciously given.

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The Art of Manliness

David and Saul
David and Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…while David was playing the lyre, as he usually did.
1 Samuel 18:10 (NLT)

Manliness is most often associated in our culture with strength, grit, and accomplishment on the field of battle, athletics, or business. King David was, no doubt, a man’s man for his military prowess and leadership. When an entire nation is singing the praises of the tens of thousands of enemy you’ve slain, you’ve got to feel the testosterone surge. I’m just saying. When it comes to masculinity, David was a stud.

But the thing I personally love about David is that there was a balance to his masculinity. Not only could the guy wield sling and sword, fight lions and bears, kill giants and lead successful military campaigns, but he was also a poet, songwriter, and musician. Most of the lyrics we read in the book of Psalms were penned by David. He could express himself and his emotions in beautiful and creative ways. He could play harp and lyre with such beauty that it drove away the darkness and lifted the spirits of those who listened.

Masculinity is much more than the stereotypical muscles, mechanics, and athletic ability. Being a man is equally about walking in the ways of the Creator who expresses His person and character metaphorically in all manner of beautiful acts of creation. There is a balance which we see embodied in David who was both warrior and poet, creator and defender, and man after God’s own heart.

 

God is Not “Either Or.” God is “Both And.”

Hammer your plowshares into swords
    and your pruning hooks into spears.
    Train even your weaklings to be warriors.
Joel 3:10 (NLT)

I know a small host of people I love for whom the “warrior God” metaphors such as we find in Joel’s prophecy today an uncomfortable pill to swallow. I totally get it, but it’s an on-going reminder to me that God is so much more than any one of us can possibly comprehend. God’s nature, as described throughout God’s Message, is so vast that it encompasses incredible contradictory elements. God is Lion and Lamb. God is Alpha and Omega. God is Artist and Warrior. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is not “either or.” God is “yes and.”

I’m reminded this morning of Meredith Brooks‘ song, B*tch. I believe God totally relates to Brooks’ very true, very raw sentiments. They’re inspired. Just as Brooks so eloquently describes the complexities and contradictions of being a woman, God is so much more than the box we try to put Him in. He is solely confined by boundaries of His own choosing, and that can be confusing for our finite understandings.

Brooks sings:

I can understand how you’d be so confused
I don’t envy you
I’m a little bit of everything
All rolled into one

I’m a b*tch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way

Today I’m thinking about the oft forgotten reality that we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Like all good stories, the Great Story that God is authoring throughout history is about light versus darkness, death versus life, good versus evil. It is not about what is seen, but what is unseen. That doesn’t, however, mean it isn’t real. When the climactic confrontation arrives in that spiritual conflict, I personally want a warrior God leading the charge of the forces of Light.

*i  😉

Dirty Harry Blues

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 58

Then at last everyone will say,
    “There truly is a reward for those who live for God;
    surely there is a God who judges justly here on earth.”
Psalm 58:11 (NLT)

I was reading a college paper my daughter wrote just the other day about human trafficking and slavery in today’s world. The numbers were depressing. Close to two million human beings enslaved in the world and most of them falling under the designation of the sex slave trade. Even here in the “land of the free” the number of human beings enslaved and trafficked for the sex slave trade is estimated to be 10,000 or more. And, this is just the tip of the injustice iceberg when you start talking about slave labor, corrupt governments, organized crime, drug cartels, religious intolerance, and genocide. The weight of it all is enough to make a person’s blood boil with righteous anger.

Today’s chapter is what scholars call an “imprecatory” psalm. That’s a fancy word meaning to call down a curse on someone. David is calling on God to violently destroy those who do evil in this world, and it’s a bit difficult for some people to reconcile with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us.

Great songwriters know how to express the breadth of the human experience in the language of music. David was not just a warrior; He was an artist, as well. When he wrote his songs, which we now refer to as psalms, he covered his own emotional spectrum from A to Z. When David was feeling good, he wrote a rockin’ song of praise. When David got angry, he wrote the blues. Because he was both an artist and a warrior, his blues lyrics didn’t come out sounding like a helpless victim, they came out sounding like Dirty Harry.

From the time David was a kid he faced injustice with a sling and a sword.  When he saw the injustice of the way Goliath was mocking God, David killed the giant and cut off his head. David was a soldier and a warrior and his first instinct was to exact justice with capital punishment. Therefore, when he looked at the injustice of the world, his warrior heart wanted God to show up with a sword and destroy the guilty. David was expressing a very real emotion that is part of the human experience – to see those who do evil punished and destroyed. It’s the same satisfaction we feel when we see the evil villain taken out at the end of the movie.

Yesterday we talked about the fact that being a Jesus follower means choosing to swim against the tide of our emotions and circumstances. Because we’re called on to love our enemies doesn’t mean our natural emotions aren’t going want to see them dead. That’s what makes Jesus followers different. There is a difference between feeling anger about the corporate evil of injustice and acting out in anger against an individual. We may feel David’s righteous anger and desire to see all who do evil destroyed. We might even sing right along with him. When faced with how we respond to an individual who has wronged us, it our conscious choice to act against anger and vengeance and to inexplicably choose forgiveness and grace that reveals our faith and marks us as followers of Jesus. That is what Jesus meant when He said that the world will know His followers by their love.

 

Chapter-a-Day 1 Chronicles 22

Bloody hands. David said to Solomon, “I wanted in the worst way to build a sanctuary to honor my God. But God prevented me, saying, ‘You’ve killed too many people, fought too many wars. You are not the one to honor me by building a sanctuary—you’ve been responsible for too much killing, too much bloodshed.” 1 Chronicles 22:7 (MSG)

I’ve got the gift of teaching and preaching. I don’t know why God gave it to me, and I don’t always understand His designs for it in my life, but I’ve got it. I’m not a gifted singer, even though I’m envious of those who are gifted singers. I’d love to open my mouth and have a voice eminate that stops people in their tracks, but that’s not me. I’m a decent singer, and I can belt out a decent tune, but I was never the first choice to sing the solo (or the second or third, for that matter).

Along the journey I’ve had the opportunity to speak and to preach along side some very gifted musicians and worship leaders. I’ve noticed a pattern. Many of them really wanted to be gifted teachers and preachers, but they weren’t. They were gifted singers. I really wanted to be a gifted singer, but I wasn’t.

I recall one weekend I was doing a series of messages. The worship leader, knowing that I secretly wanted to sing, let me try my hand at a solo. It wasn’t embarrassing, but it wasn’t great, either. Everybody knew it. During the worship set, the worship leader went off between songs into a long teaching introduction. There was nothing wrong with what he said, it just didn’t fit. I’ll never forget that evening, After the service I remember saying, “I won’t sing if you don’t preach. You stick with singing. I’ll stick with preaching. It’ll be better for everyone.”

As much as David wanted to build the temple, he wasn’t the right person person. He was a warrior. His job was to make way for the building of the temple, which would be done by his son, who was a man of peace, knowledge and wisdom.

We all have our gifts and our part to play in God’s kingdom. The key is to identify our gift and use it well.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and kypkanomin