A Pair of Triads

11 Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals, and they forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, 12 and followed other gods from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed themselves down to them; thus they provoked the Lord to anger.  13 So they forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtaroth.  

14 The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies around them, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.  15 Wherever they went, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had spoken and as the Lord had sworn to them, so that they were severely distressed.
(Judges 2:11 — 15 NASB)

When mom repeated something three times, it was serious.  Either we got it, and all calmed down, or that was the extent of her patience leading to wrath.  It was our choice.  We could push her buttons beyond the sacred three repeats, and incur her swift justice.  Or we could choose to obey the third repeat of the command, diffusing the tension and recovering the peace of the home.  My mom raised two boys, so it was often tense.

It’s kind of like that in Scripture too.  When God repeats Himself three times it’s probably important.  In this passage, the author compiles two sets of threes.  I’m going to say that’s important.  Wait, you don’t see it?  Well, this translation doesn’t help since the verse division an sentence structure don’t exactly match in one point, and the verse structure actually obscures the second set.  Let me help you out.

The first “triad” is the is what the Sons of Israel did, and is found in verses 11 through 13.  Each verse repeats the sin of the Sons of Israel, but in a slightly different way.  They did evil in His sight serving the Baals, they followed other gods bowing down to them, and they forsook Yahweh to serve Baal and Ashtaroth.  Clearly it’s important we know that the Sons of Israel sinned by following the gods of the people around them.

The second triad, what Yahweh did, is more difficult to spot because verse 14 has two of the three pieces. Yahweh’s anger burns and He has them plundered, He sells them to their enemies so they can’t put up a fight, and His hand is against them for evil (yes, God’s hand does evil).  Without this triad, you might think God abandoned the Sons of Israel.  They did.  This writer isn’t allowing such a conclusion.  God was there, but was against them because of their service to other gods.

We think God has forsaken us sometimes.  Things don’t go well at home, at work, with friends or family.  We get sick, our family gets sick or hurt, and we think God has left us, or hates us.  The Children of Abraham probably thought that when times got hard.  When crops were light, or bad, or sickness struck, where was God?  And then, if successful people worshipped this Baal god, maybe that would help.  These Canaanites also worshipped El, and Baal was his son, so that makes it okay, right?

We don’t like to think ill of God, but we don’t want to understand Him either.  We’d really prefer that He do what we want, be like we want or imagine, and just be more convenient for us.  Whatever we might want, God not only persists being Who He is, but He also refuses to go away.  If we want to get along with Him, then we need to learn how.  And that requires worship of Him as God, time spent with Him in prayer (listening and speaking), and studying Scripture.  If we’re not willing to do that, then this will a bewildering and frustrating relationship with the Creator of the Universe.

Anyway, that’s my view this morning.  If you read past my comment that God does evil, then share your view through your knothole?

A Generation Away…

 When Joshua had dismissed the people, the sons of Israel went each to his inheritance to possess the land.  The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel.  Then Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred and ten.  And they buried him in the territory of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash.  All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.
(Judges 2:6 — 10 NASB)

While this an exaggeration, it makes a frightening point.  All it takes for the people of God to find someone else to worship is one failed generation.  This is an exaggeration because God will always provide for a remnant.  Even in Judges, there was always someone who seems to know God, ready to lead the people back to Him.  The people didn’t listen until it hurt too much to continue to ignore God.  But, there is still enough of the generation walking away from God, walking away because they don’t know.  That’s scary.

I suspect the problem wasn’t the prior generation not passing on the information. I suspect it was the type of knowledge.  I suspect the Next Gen didn’t know God in the same way the prior generation knew Him, experientially.  It’s one thing to pass on knowledge, it’s another thing to train someone else to follow the successful patterns, but it’s an impossible thing to cause someone to experience God.

Some will just get it. They’ll see God working in dad or grandpa, someone they admire, and for them it’s real.  For others, the family isn’t as strong, and the message is correspondingly weak.  Or perhaps the power and influence shifts ever so slightly towards those “compromisers”, seemingly successful people, who are more like the culture. Then the influence of the the devoted ones is diluted.  

Hopefully this sounds familiar enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  It’s them, those faithless people in Judges, and it’s us.  The more things change, the more information we have at our finger tips, the more money we have, the more we’re so much like them.  It’s so different now, you don’t know.  But it was different in our day too, and yet here we are again.  In so many ways, we’re those annoying know-it-all teenagers, telling the previous generation, “We got this, no wories,” oblivious to the train wreck ahead.

I’m guessing it wasn’t that the next generation didn’t know, but it was that they thought they knew better.  Like us, they’d figure out that ignoring God, or rather culturing Him, didn’t provide the results desired.  At that point we either change our desires, as so many have done, or look for that deliverer God raises up.  Somewhere, some weirdo who knows the stories, believes the old tales from the previous generation,  and has remained true to the God of whom they speak, this one will start to make some sense.

Until that happens, it’s probably best to be reading Scripture, you know so we’ll be able to tell the deliverer from the deceiver. That’s important too. It would be pretty embarrassing to call out to God for a deliverer, and then follow the wrong one…of course, I’m pretty sure that’s how we got here in the first place.

What’s  your view through the knothole this morning?

Bad News From God

Now the angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land which I have sworn to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you, and as for you, you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed Me; what is this you have done?  Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they will become as thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you.’”  When the angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the sons of Israel, the people lifted up their voices and wept.  So they named that place Bochim; and there they sacrificed to the Lord. (Judges 2:1 — 5 NASB

Every time I encounter the Angel of Yahweh in Scripture, I believe this is God Himself. Here, though, God goes for a strenuous walk. He goes up from Gilgal to Bochim, which, depending on where you believe Bochim to be, is all up hill. Regardless of how far or in which direction, God begins His walk with His people.  Gilgal is still the place they started their conqpuest of Canaan.

Did you also notice His affirmation that He will never break His covenant? Remember that this how He starts out His harsh words to them. It’s not because they are so good, but because of their father’s righteousness.  Their part of the covenant was to drive out the Canaanites, and they made friends with them instead. At the most, they forced these Canaanites into forced labor. 

Then God declares that, if they will not drive them out now, then He will not help them drive them out later. The covenant doesn’t take a break, there will be no coming back to it later. The people of God, the Sons of Israel, the Children of Abraham, were becoming just like everyone else. They began to lose their distinctiveness. 

This is, more or less, how this sort of thing went in those days. The Babylonians and Assyrians, both were the product of assimilated invaders. Canaan had mixtures of Hittites, Amorites, Egyptians, and several other people groups mixed into the culture. And every time another conquering people showed up, the gods were renamed, old myths retold, and then everything found a new equilibrium. 

The God responsible for bringing these Children of Abraham back to the land of Canaan wasn’t interested in how things had always gone in the past. This counter-culture Deity sought something different. With Him, there would be no pantheon, the stories were all about Him, and He advocated a genocidal approach to the conquest of Canaan. That was not how the cultures around the Tribes of Israel played with others. This God was down right rude.

Who wants to be rude? Why can’t we all just get along? Isn’t compromise the pathway to peace among all peoples? Seriously, you have to kill everyone? When it got tough, when the enemies broke out the iron chariots, when the city walls seemed high and thick, compromise began to look attractive. And, to be honest, it still does. Our culture tells us to put down the swords and Spears, and just compromise. That way, everyone wins. And isn’t that the point?

Anyway, that’s my view of the ball game through the fence today. What’s your view like?

Giants In The Land

So Judah went against the Canaanites who lived in Hebron (now the name of Hebron formerly was Kiriath-arba); and they struck Sheshai and Ahiman and Talmai. (Judges 1:10 NASB)

Now the LORD was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country; but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots.
Then they gave Hebron to Caleb, as Moses had promised; and he drove out from there the three sons of Anak. (Judges 1:19-20 NASB)

Because the Septuagint translates some Hebrew words as “gigas” or “giant”, the mythic memory of the battle of the Greek gods against the giants vaguely becomes a background for some of the conflict in Canaan.  But even so, isn’t interesting that both traditions preserve this memory of large powerful people?

There are  several clues for us that this world is not as our scientists would have us believe.  In some ways I wonder if science fiction may be closer to the truth.  The Scriptures, including the Christian Scriptures, paint a scene of heaven where there is conflict.  There is a war among the “Sons of God”, and sides have been chosen.  We are fairly oblivious in our western philosophical arrogance, and it’s in the “third world” that this war clearer.

The problem we face is our prejudices and fears.  We consider every other culture to be ignorant of how the world really works.  And we fear the nagging fact that there seems to be so much we can’t measure but which still seems to have an effect on our world.  But isn’t it the fears and prejudices of ancient cultures that we assume spawned their myths?

What if the world depicted by Scripture isn’t all that different from reality, and we have it skewed by our fears and prejudices?  What if there are giants in the land, or were.  There were lions in Canaan, but we know they were hunted to extinction.  There were bears too, and we know those were destroyed.  What if, before that, there were giants?

It’s possible we, modern western science-minded people, don’t actually know as much as we think we do.  Perhaps the enlightenment wasn’t as enlightening as we thought.  Maybe modernist and post-modernists didn’t improve our perception of the universe.  Perhaps all we’ve done is hobbled our ability to stand against the spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms.

Just kidding.  Probably not.  What a load of hooey.  Go back to your day, enjoy your breakfast.  There’s no bogeyman, no monsters, and no reason to believe in ghosts.  So what if you can’t explain stuff, right?  It’s just a matter of time until we figure it out…

I’ll just be over here praying.  Which for me means I’ll be entering into the spiritual realm of my King, and communicating past an army fighting Him, out for my destruction.  Don’t mind me.  Just put more apple butter on your English muffin, and refresh your coffee mug.

Carry on.  Nothing to see here…

No Thumbs

They found Adoni-bezek in Bezek and fought against him, and they defeated the Canaanites and the Perizzites.  But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes.  Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to gather up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.” So they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there. (Judges 1:5-7 NASB)

History is one of those fields of study that vainly attempts a scientific approach, but which always fails to avoid a good story.  After all, it’s the story of a culture that is the object of any anthropological study.  Unfortunately, people can be distracted by the details and miss the point.  I think that’s what happens way too often to this reference.

Adoni-Bezek (or Adonai-Bezeq), is a person we can’t find.  The city of Bezek was found (we think), but it’s not in Judah’s territory.  At the end of this account, this king is taken to Jerusalem.  I mention that because in Joshua, which most of Judges 1 repeats, there is a king referred to as Adonai-Zedek who is the king of Jerusalem.  More likely than not, there was a simple misspelling of the name, and this account in Judges refers to the same king in Joshua.  I bring this up for two reasons.

Jerusalem is the city of Salem mentioned in Genesis 14.  Melchizedek brought bread and wine out to Abraham after he rescued Lot, and Abraham gave him a tithe.  Melchizedek was referred to as “king of Salem”, and “priest of God Most High”.  So, this priest worships the same God as Abraham.  The name of this peculiar character is most often translated as “king of righteousness”.  I believe the name combines the two roles, priest and king, into one person.

Second, Salem becomes Jerusalem when the Jebusites inhabit it.  At that point this “king/priest” role seems to change, or at least the god worshiped seems to change.  Because when the Sons of Israel show up, the people of Jerusalem are not on their side.  The name of this king, Adonai-Bezek (or Adonai-Zedek) uses a term that Canaanites used for their storm god, “Baal”.  The Sons of Israel switched to Adonai, but the term was almost interchangeable as it meant “the one in charge” of whatever.  So, the name of the king of the city where God Most High was once worshiped, had succumbed to the gods of the rest of Canaan.

Notice that this king still remembers the name of Yahweh (Lord).  He knew the God of the Sons of Israel, but didn’t worship Him.  He knew that becoming thumb-less was due to his treatment of others, a judgement on him by the God Most High his city used to worship.  He knew, but too late.

What do I know, but don’t act on?  I know in Whom I have believed, and I too am persuaded that He is faithful.  I know that what I have entrusted to Him, He will keep until we meet in eternity.  But do I live that way?  Do I behave as if this is true, that I am persuaded of that?  How confident am I in my Master that He truly has my back, that He loves me?  How much am I at His service?  Would people with whom I work know that about me?  Would the ones with whom I speak on the phone pick up on that?

The return on the investment of my life into my Master isn’t an improvement in my immediate surroundings.  The return on the investment of my life into my Master is in a changed lifestyle.  He changes me by my close association with Him.  It’s not that I try to be better, or kinder, or more polite.  By association, He changes me into someone who is simply more like Him.  Or, at least, that’s what’s supposed to be happening.  Sometimes I wonder.

What’s your view through the knothole this morning?

Going Up!

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God. (Luke 24:50-53 NASB)

Luke’s book, the Acts of the Apostles, throws me off.  I keep thinking that stuff about the resurrection is in a Gospel, but then I can’t find it in Matthew, Mark, or John.  It’s frustrating.  For instance, I thought that it was odd that Matthew and Mark have instructions from Jesus (or angels) for the disciples to go to Galilee and Luke doesn’t.  John doesn’t have instructions, he simply has them in Galilee fishing.  But then I realize that neither Matthew, Mark, nor John have an account of Jesus’ ascension (John mentions it in passing).

So, even though I thought there were two Gospels describing the ascension of Jesus, there’s one, and Acts, both of which are Luke’s writing.  Then the 40 days Jesus hung around with the disciples is missing from every Gospel.  Turns out it’s in Acts.  So, the return of Jesus into heaven is described only by Luke.  That’s weird to me.  I would think John would describe it, at least.  But in Acts I think I find the reason the others don’t describe it.

In Acts, after Jesus ascends, two angels appear to get the disciples moving off the hill top.  But they say something interesting, “This same Jesus you saw taken up will come back in the same way” (Acts 1:11).  That’s obviously not in the other Gospels as well.  Here’s why I think they left it out: What if Jesus visits before the “cloud appearance”?

In Matthew and John, Jesus just appears wherever and whenever He likes.  This happens in Luke as well.  Mark simply ends with the angels giving instructions to the women, like “reader-response literature” or something.  And Matthew and John really say little about any sort of return to the Father, at least not post-resurrection (except for Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the Garden).

I think this is because they know, or suspect, that Jesus comes and goes to the Father at will.  And that they believe He can, and will, continue to do so.  Think about this, there is no mention of a Second Coming of Jesus in Scripture, only the Appearing.  So, He’s coming in the clouds one day, that is clear.  But I believe that Matthew and John also believe that He can, and probably does, visit from time-to-time.

Now, I get that such a possibility sends dispensationalists into apoplectic shock, but I consider that a bonus.  On the other hand, considering the numerous “Angel of the Lord” appearances all through the Hebrew Scriptures, it shouldn’t shock anyone.  The God of the entire universe in human form would be Jesus, wouldn’t it?  Who do we think visited Abraham just before God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah?  Whoever it was enjoyed a meal with Abraham while they talked about Isaac’s eventual birth.

So, be cautious about criticizing those movies and books about God Almighty, or an impressive carpenter who goes to the Vatican.  It seems we find it so easy to believe in seeing angels, but not Jesus.  It’s very possible that we make an error there, possibly a very embarrassing one.  Why not just be gracious because we simply don’t know?  Would it kill us to be hospitable to someone randomly showing up with a message from God for us, especially if it actually were God?

No one ever seems to believe it at first.  Not even in Jesus’ days of ministry did they believe it, not at first.  So, it’s necessary and natural to be somewhat skeptical.  But let’s be hospitable as we listen.

What do you think?  What’s your view through your knothole this morning?

Great Commissions

“And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them.  While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven.  And they, after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising God.  (Luke 24:49-53 NASB)

When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.  And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:17-20 NASB)

Have you ever been bored?  When we consider that we’ve got all the people-groups of the world in whom to make disciples, how could we be bored.  And yet, I’m bored more often than I care to admit.  How can that be?

The “Great Commission” of Matthew 28 has a counterpart in Luke24.  While the one in Matthew is familiar, we often miss some important elements.  For instance, we’re supposed to go and make disciples.  If you would like some clarity on what that means, check out my blog entry on the topic of disciples here.  It’s not as nice and easy as it might sound.

In Luke 24, the commission sounds slightly different.  In verses 47 through 48, the commission is to proclaim repentance into forgiveness of sins to all nations in His name.  The concept of “disciples” isn’t mentioned.  That the proclamation goes into all nations is consistent.  In reality, though, repentance is what disciples do, and do for the rest of their time here on earth.  So, actually, the two commissions have more in common than appears on the surface.

All this to come back around to my original question.  Have you ever been bored?  As I mentioned, I am bored in a shameful frequency.  The sad truth is that those living close to me are probably not disciples, nor have they had “repentance into forgiveness” proclaimed to them.  At least they haven’t heard this from me.

I’m simply thinking that I can’t be bored while my neighbors haven’t heard.  If they’ve heard and reject, that’s one thing.  But if I haven’t even tried, then why would I be bored? If I really believe Jesus is all I teach in this blog, then I should be busier telling others about repentance into forgiveness.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?