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.
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.
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.
King 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.