A Whirlwind Relationship

One of the interesting “appearances” of our Creator in the Hebrew Scriptures is as a “whirlwind”. There is a term that is commonly thought of in this way, the Hebrew word, “sa’arah”. It’s used when Elijah is taken up by Yahweh (2 Kings 2:11), and this is the word for the whirlwind out of which Yahweh speaks to Job (Job 38:1). It isn’t always the appearance of Yahweh, sometimes it is an actual storm.

Having said that, it is used in Ezekiel for the appearance of Yahweh to Ezekiel at the River Chebar:

As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire.
Ezekiel 1:4 NASB

Ezekiel goes on to describe an inexplicable sight of the creatures about the throne of Yahweh. Still, all of that happens within this cloud or fiery whirlwind. Which reminded me of the appearance of Yahweh on  Mount Sinai in Exodus:

So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
Exodus 19:16-20

The same word, sa’arah, is not used in Exodus, but the imagery sure sounds similar. There are other visions of Yahweh which don’t involve the whirlwind, so why do some? I’m not sure, and conjecture at this point is probably not helpful. It most likely has to do with the particular people at that particular point in human history, and I don’t know enough detail about either.

Yet, I learn something of my Savior from these appearances. I learn things like these:

  1. He is willing to come to His people and be seen by them
  2. He is powerful, frighteningly so, possibly terrifyingly (yet, see Judges 13:21-23)
  3. He reveals Himself to His people in ways that communicate a message we need, at that point in time.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. The vision of Elisha of the chariots of fire and horses of fire as Elijah is taken by the whirlwind, combined with the vision of Ezekiel of the creatures within the storming whirlwind makes me wonder. What would it be like to see that? What would such an appearance of my Creator be like to experience? Would I, like Ezekiel, be silenced for a week? Would I, like Isaiah, have the presence of mind to volunteer for my Savior’s purpose? Or would I blather on like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration? I suspect I’d blather.

My Creator has not shown up to speak with me like that. I haven’t seen Him enthroned with the four creatures around Him. I haven’t heard the loud thundering trumpet of His voice. I believe Hollywood cannot reproduce, or even come close, to what Elisha or Ezekiel saw, nor adequately depict the glory of my Creator showing up on Mount Sinai. I want to see it. I want to be so awed I collapse in a quivering heap on the ground, babbling in a fetal position for a week. Bring it on! Sigh, alas, it is not to be. And that’s okay, honestly.

The thing is, I can get so caught up in the physical sight that I miss the fact that I have Him with me all the time. It would be cool to see the whirlwind, don’t get me wrong. And I would be ecstatic to experience that (and, yes, terrified). Yet, my Savior dwells within me at every moment.

Therefore, when I am behaving, He is with me. And when I am misbehaving, He is with me. He is with me when I travel, when I am at home, and when I am somewhere else. If I would live that way all the time, I would be different. I would treat others differently, I would see this world differently, I would think differently. And, perhaps, living that way might make it more likely that I will see such a sight. Yet, even if it doesn’t, and I don’t, I will in heaven. Eventually, we will all of us see Him, in all His glory, and every knee will bow, and every will tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It will happen, eventually. So, in the meantime, how will I live today?

Wrath, Grace, and Justice

I get why a lot of people referring to themselves as “Christ-followers” don’t particularly like the Hebrew Scriptures. I have changed my term to disciple of Jesus. Not that I am particularly disciplined, or not as much as I should be. I choose it because it is more subordinate in my mind. I need something more intentional and committed, because I don’t particularly like what I find in the Hebrew Scriptures either. Yet it’s still true about my Creator and Savior.

For instance, when David sins by counting the people, Yahweh is very displeased. After David repents (at least in the order things are recorded), Yahweh gives David a choice of three punishments: 1) Three years of famine, 2) Three months of battle loss, or 3) Three days of pestilence. Pestilence doesn’t sound so bad, but here’s how Yahweh describes it to Gad, David’s seer:

So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Take for yourself either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the LORD, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.”
(1 Chronicles 21:11-12 NASB)

David’s response is that he would rather fall into the hands of Yahweh than the hands of men, so he chooses three days. The angel of Yahweh goes through the land and 70,000 die from north to south in the land. And then there’s this dramatic scene:

And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, “It is enough; now relax your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. David said to God, “Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O LORD my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father’s household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.”

(1 Chronicles 21:15-17 NASB)

This is a difficult account of our Savior punishing sin among His people. It’s a window into His relationship with David, with Israel, with His human creatures, and, potentially, with us. We don’t like it when our Savior get’s angry, we’re uncomfortable, and squirm in our seats. This is how He dealt with His people, not gentiles, not pagans worshipping other gods, His chosen ones. How, then, will we escape when our Father in Heaven seems so severe?

Our hope is in His grace. Our Savior is just. And, because of His just nature, there is wrath. Yet, there is also grace. Yahweh saw what His angel was about to do to Jerusalem, and “relented” or “was sorry”. Our Creator changed His mind. Isn’t that what we want from a just God? Do we really want justice? Wouldn’t that wipe us out, utterly destroy us? Isn’t that a global flood, thorough destruction, maybe with only a single family left?

I want grace. I want my Savior to change His mind about me. I want something to appease my Creator. Eventually, my Creator provided Himself as my Savior. He took away the wrath by taking it on Himself. He appeased Himself, His just nature was settled through Jesus on a cross. And so, grace reigned over my sin, my failure, as David experienced. David saw the angel of Yahweh standing over Jerusalem with sword drawn, ready to destroy there too. And David saw it all stop, in grace. Yahweh changed His mind, relented of the evil about to happen, was sorry for the people of Jerusalem, and stopped it. 

Read the Hebrew Scriptures and discover the grace of our Creator in fresh ways. The accounts of our Creator demonstrating grace among these accounts helps us better appreciate Jesus, and ourselves before His presence. On the threshing floor of Ornan (Arunah in 2 Samuel 24), David makes an altar, and offers an offering to Yahweh. According to tradition, eventually, on that site, David’s son, Solomon will build the temple. And, eventually, the Savior will teach in the courts there, teach of the grace of Yahweh.

Struggling With The Sins of Others

I am absolutely not a fan of “pride month” being June. It’s the month I was born. Now, instead of being able to do fun things to celebrate me, I find my plans blocked by parades and celebrations I find extremely “uncomfortable”. Okay, I don’t actually plan to go anywhere for my birthday that this will be a problem (except for this year, and we’re going anyway). Honestly, it’s this month-long celebration of a behavior that is so clearly a violation of my religious beliefs. It’s as if that’s the point, to offend.

Scripture isn’t “obscure” on the topic of gender-identity. It isn’t one of those “grey areas”. Paul begins his letter to Rome with these very clear statements:

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
(Romans 1:26-27 NASB)

Now, to be clear, this is a translation of an ancient version of Greek, no longer in use. So, English translators do their best to render the original meaning into English. It’s tough, though, to really get the descriptors Paul uses here to work well in English. Most of the translations I’ve looked at (here it’s the New American Standard) agree on the gist of Paul’s point. It’s wrong, people know it, and our Creator has stopped trying to stop them from harming themselves.

So, am I right in being bothered by a month of “pride” in what my Savior calls “degrading passions”? Well, maybe. Although, the chapter of Romans doesn’t end there. 

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.
(Romans 1:28-32 NASB)

You see, the list isn’t restricted to LGBTQEtc-type sins. There’s actually a long list of behaviors that “miss the mark” of righteousness with our Creator. The key is how this paragraph begins, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer,…”. It is this statement that forms the basis on our Creator’s “handing over” of these people. It’s not that they are LGBTQ-whatever. Look at the rest of the paragraph’s behavior list. How many of those are mine? Way too many, honestly.

I’m not going to go through the list with a “done that” “not done that” marker. You get the point, and you could do that yourself. The point is that Paul is making it clear the problem is actually wide-spread. The Jewish readers would have been horrified and appalled at the sexual sins listed, but then they would find themselves on the list at the end. The point isn’t whether you find yourself on the list, the point is “acknowledging God”.

Look at how Paul leads into this discussion:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
(Romans 1:18-20 NASB)

Our Creator is known. He has revealed Himself through what He has created. So, people, also His creations, are without excuse regarding acknowledging their Creator. But it goes on:

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
(Romans 1:21-25 NASB)

Did you notice the pointed accusation in verse 25, “…and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…”? Do you catch the point? I know that I struggle with that. When I think of what people think of me more than what my Creator thinks of me, I fail precisely at this point. Then I gossip, I slander, am arrogant, boastful, insolent; am basically selfish, self-centered, and fear the creatures rather than the Creator.

So, yes, a month dedicated to celebrating any one of these failures of humanity is frustrating and confusing. But what should I expect from such a world as Paul describes? Isn’t every day some sort of celebration of these things? Don’t our entertainment choices celebrate the list of sins?

I still don’t like it, I feel uncomfortable with the topic, and I don’t want the topic of “gender identity” pushed in my face. And yet, I am right there with them with my own vices on this list. The sad reality is that I am not going to be pleased with the reading of the “books” in Revelation listing everything we’ve ever done, both good and bad. I’m going to have a lot more bad than good, that’s just the truth about me.

On the other hand, I believe my name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. At the end of the process, it’s not what’s written in the books, but rather my name being in the Book of Life that matters. What’s in the books may be embarrassing, but that will be overwhelmed by the joy of my name being in the Lamb’s book of life. 

My Creator is my Savior, and not because of something I’ve done. He is my Savior because of what He has done. He loves me. My actions on that list have not voided His love for me. So, I can only assume that this is true of anyone who’s behavior is on that list. The key is whether we acknowledge our Creator. 

So, at the end of my line of thinking, I’m still uncomfortable and frustrated. I am also more mindful of the wide arms of my Savior. If He accepts me, He will accept anyone who acknowledges Him, anyone who believes that He exists and is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Will the behavior change? Mine has. On the other hand, some hasn’t. But how I view my behavior has completely changed. I accept my Savior’s view of my behavior, His definition of good and evil, His desire for my actions toward others. Perhaps that’s the litmus test of acknowledging our Creator as our Savior.

What do you think? Or is that a dangerous question?

Revenge By Good Behavior?

Teaching young people, high school-age or middle schoolers, is more like leading wading through a dense jungle together with them, than actually teaching, in a traditional sense. Yesterday, I was asked, “If doing good to people ‘heaps coals on people’s heads’, are we doing good to people to get them angry? Isn’t that manipulative?” I don’t think that question would even occur to most adults. On the other hand, I don’t think most adults ask about what they don’t understand, at least not about the Bible anyway.

“BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”
Romans 12:20 NASB

Well, I figured the best approach to any sort of answer was to examine the context. Here’s the verse where the phrase is found. It’s a quote from Proverbs 25:21-22. The reference to “burning coals on his head” is probably cultural, and doesn’t mean what it sounds like. I couldn’t find an explanation though, and it seems the imagery remains a mystery.

Paul doesn’t just quote this proverb without some sort of helpful context. Look where it occurs in his discussion in Romans 12 (where application begins):

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:14-21 NASB

The quote is bracketed by “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” from Deuteronomy 32:35 reserving vengeance to Yahweh, and the summary statement, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” That last statement probably provides the best understanding of “heaping coals”. It is probably not meant as a punishment as such, but more like an incentive to repentance. Although, vengeance of Yahweh could feel like hot coals on the head. Even so, the vengeance would, hopefully, lead the person to repent.

These verses leave disciples of Jesus with the clear call to treat those inside and outside the church well, even (or especially) when persecuted. We are to associate with the lowly, to be at peace with everyone, and leave revenge to our Savior. Bless others, join them in their pain and joy. Don’t make it about you. And “be of the same mind”. When does that happen? We are all about factions, differences, politics, race, sexual orientation, whatever. 

What would the world think of a group of people who lived out these principles? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out? I’m struggling with the part about not making it about me. I always seem to catch myself after I snack on my foot. But what if I really tried, worked at trapping that thought before I spoke? What if I did good, fed my enemies, treated them with kindness? What if I wept with those in mourning? What if I rejoiced with those rejoicing without wondering when good stuff will happen to me? What if I was like minded instead of contending for the wrong priorities?

What about you? Can this be you? Can you be like this? Will you? Perhaps we can help each other work at it together? What a thought.

I’m Sorry, WHAT?

Think about the last time you were sure you misheard someone, only to discover what you heard was what they said? The resulting cognizant dissonance can result from shock, from abhorrence, from joy, or even horror. When was the last time you ran across a verse that caught you up short, shocked you, compelled you to every reference you could find to help you grapple with the dissonance in your mind?

I’m searching for an understanding of the Biblical Spiritual Cosmology. Honestly, I’m not sure what to call it, but from what little I can figure out so far, it is the spiritual reality alongside our own, where the “spiritual warfare” we don’t see takes place. It’s where the “sons of God” come before His throne, including Satan (Job 1:6). It’s the place in the heavens where the spiritual forces of evil collide with their Creator (Ephesians 6:12).

I want to know what we’re up against, the lay of the land, a map, to know the enemy and friendlies. I’m not having an easy time of it. Scripture seems to assume I know more than I do. Paul just leaves things said without providing a context. He’s provide oral teaching, and refers to it in letters without describing it further. He already has with his audience earlier, in person. But now, we don’t have that. What the stink is “the third heaven”? How many are there, for Pete’s sake?

Well, in the process of this quest, I ran across this verse:

And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
Deuteronomy 4:19 NASB

I’m sorry, what? Our Creator and Savior allotted the “host of heaven” to all the peoples under the whole heaven? In the Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, it says He does this as “guides” not to be worshipped. The problem with interpreting this reference as “guides” is that the context is worship. But, this same entry claims that some Jewish commentators claim this passage condones idolatry among Gentiles. I’m confused.

Let’s set aside for a second whether this reference condones idolatry among Gentiles or refers to them as “guides”. Regardless, there is a sense in which they are given importance I didn’t know our Creator gives them. He allotted them to all people under heaven. Everyone who looks at them is supposed to draw some sense of importance from them, a purpose of their Creator, and ours. 

Consider, for a moment, that almost every human religion ascribes some quality of deity to the sun, moon, and stars. It’s like the prevalence of flood geology. How is it that stars had such a perfuse importance to we, human creatures? And their proper relation to the “Peculiar People of God” is that we do not worship them like everyone does.

Here’s my dilemma: Since we are not to worship them, how, then, have they been allotted to us as also those under all the heavens? Not for worship, clearly, so what for? Are they “guides”, then for what? To where?

I do not know, not yet. But I believe it has something to do with the “spiritual cosmology” I’m pursuing. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, be sure to look up; not to then bow down to what you see, but, rather to marvel at the works of our Creator’s hands declaring His glory (Psalm 19:1).

Eventually…

 Eventually, stuff works out. Below is a picture I took of the planet Mars. As I said last week, a big white spot.

It would probably be more interesting if you could see the stars around it, but that was difficult because this was just to the right of it:

And the focus on these was difficult because of distortion in the air, so this is all I was able to get.

You see, eventually, things work out. And, that is true for everything. The cliche is that “all things come to an end”. Not just good things come to an end, but all things. Eventually, there will be this event where the Creator of the universe sits on a throne to judge, and heaven and earth will flee from him, and find no hiding place…I know, right? What will that look like?

There will be a day when books will be opened, and another book will be opened. John described it this way:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:11-15 NASB

Books were opened, and everyone, great and small, were judged by what was written in “the books”. But, at the end of the process, it didn’t depend on what was in the books, but whether your name is written in the Book of Life. Are you alive? That’s what counts.

I have been reading a book that explores theology using the Peanuts cartoons as illustrations. I was pretty intrigued by it until the author makes this case that there is no future hell, and everyone goes to heaven. Nice idea, but not Scriptural. He tries to make it so, but the problem is that his attempts are to reconcile his idea of what a “god of love” would do, rather than accept the self-revelation of the God who is love.

So, this author and I differ on that view. Eventually, we’ll know which of us is right. One day we’ll stand before this massive white throne, and our judge will be the God who is, rather the one of our imaginations. Maybe we will both be wrong, having both worshipped different gods of our imagination.

I’m trying to perceive the God revealing Himself through Scripture, and I’m relying on my hope that He won’t judge too closely on accuracy. I’ve given up on understanding Him, and now work on accepting Him as I perceive Him. Eventually, I will see Him as He is. I doubt I will understand Him, even then. And, I hope my exercise in acceptance of Him will pay off as I grapple with that “up close and personal” experience of His presence.

I hear it’s good to have goals…

First-World Frustrations

When I was a kid, I would get all worked up over something, cranky about whatever wasn’t working like it was supposed to, I’d snap at people, and be basically crabby. My mom would always, and I mean always, ask, “Did you have your quiet time this morning?” It was like putting out a fire with gas…BOOM!

The thing is, she was right, and I knew it. It distracted from my viscerally felt validity of my problem, but it was still accurate. Last night we had a Bible study on thankfulness. I am thankful, so I didn’t pay a lot of attention. When I got home, I setup an astronomical telescope to attempt to connect it to my computer to run it. What could go wrong?

I got it aligned with the earth’s axial tilt, and tried to orient it to my specific location on the earth. I needed a couple of stars to point it at. I typically use my smart phone for that. There are free apps that will show you the constellations and stars you are looking at in the sky by holding it up against your view of the sky.

On this particular night, my phone decided that orienting itself to where I was and what I was looking at was not what it wanted to do. I’d used two different astronomical apps and it just spun around. I had to work it manually. Grrr. But I have a phone, a smart phone. That’s actually pretty cool.

I found two stars to use to orient the scope to my location. It worked, but had an “error” that was actually HUGE. I was a little concerned but it seem to track well. So, I didn’t worry about it. Now to connect the computer. But first, let’s see if I can take a picture.

I connect the camera to the scope, and get…nothing. What I see in the scope is not anywhere in the view of the camera, and they’re looking in the same “tube”. How is that even possible? No idea why that is. I change some settings on the camera, nothing. I verify that the image is in the center, change back to the camera, still nothing. But, you know what? I have this nice DSLR camera (Digital Single Lens Reflex). That’s actually pretty cool too.

Anyway, I was out here in the cold dark late night to connect my computer, not my camera. Let’s try that. Long story short, it didn’t work…at all. In fact it jacked up the computer programs and the computer. But you know what? I have a computer, a nice one. And have the time and place (my back deck) to setup a telescope and look at the night sky.

I can complain, but why? Sure, what I tried didn’t work. What I wanted to do didn’t happen. Instead I was able to see Mars, but not take a pic to share with you this morning. It would have been nice, but it wasn’t as interesting as those amazing pics from orbiters around Mars. It would have been a round white spot against black. You wouldn’t have been able to figure out what it was just from the picture. Honestly, not a huge loss. 

What we read last night was Deuteronomy 28:1-11, but look at the verses immediately following that:

The LORD will open for you his good treasure house, the heavens, to give you rain for the land in its season and to bless all you do; you will lend to many nations but you will not borrow from any. The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you will always end up at the top and not at the bottom, if you obey his commandments that I am urging you today to be careful to do. But you must not turn away from all the commandments I am giving you today, to either the right or left, nor pursue other gods and worship them.

Deuteronomy 28:12-14 NET

Yay! The storehouses of heaven, rains, we will lend and not borrow, be the head not the tail, on top not the bottom…oh wait, “If you obey his commandments…”. Would it be fair to say that praising our Savior is a command? Would it be within the realm of possibility that thankfulness in me is a desire of my Savior? 

I honestly don’t know what it would mean for me that I would be the head not the tail, on top not the bottom, or experience the treasure house of heaven. I’m guessing it doesn’t mean that my telescope will work like I want. It may mean that I get to see amazing views of what my Savior created, and marvel that He knows my name.

It’s All Good, But Not Really

Have you ever read some account in Scripture of somebody, and then thought, “I wonder if there’s more to that story.” I certainly hope so. Gideon, Jephthah, Ehud, and especially Shamgar are just a few people around whom is certainly “more to the story”. Unfortunately, this side of heaven, we’re not going to get the “rest of the story”.

On the other hand, there are times when we sort of stumble on “the rest of the story” somewhere else in Scripture. For instance, have you ever wondered why the people of Judah seemed to weave in and out of faithfulness to God with each king? It sounds a lot like the US, with each president bringing an entirely different view point and, sometimes, set of values. The kings of Judah reigned longer than four or eight years, the stories read like their short.

But even so, how do you go from the faithlessness of Ahaz who models the temple worship after pagan Assyria, to Hezekiah, who thoroughly turns the worship back to Yahweh and resists the Assyrians who had just wiped out Israel? How do the general population not get whiplash going back and forth? How do they really know what to do, what will last, what is true? What do they do when nobody’s looking? Who do they worship in secret?

No king before or after repented before the LORD as he did, with his whole heart, soul, and being in accordance with the whole law of Moses. Yet the LORD’s great anger against Judah did not subside; he was still infuriated by all the things Manasseh had done. The LORD announced, “I will also spurn Judah, just as I spurned Israel. I will reject this city that I chose—both Jerusalem and the temple, about which I said, ‘I will live there.’
(2 Kings 23:25-27 NET)

If you read the preceding verses of chapter 23 (and 22 for context), you will see the extensive reforms, which had not been done previously. And yet, clearly it’s not enough for the LORD. Why? What are we not seeing? Something is clearly missing from this story, for we know that when Ahab repented, Yahweh relented. Why not now? What’s “the rest of the story”?

The following is a record of what Jeremiah son of Hilkiah prophesied. He was one of the priests who lived at Anathoth in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. The LORD’s message came to him in the thirteenth year that Josiah son of Amon ruled over Judah. It also came in the days of Jehoiakim, son of Josiah, king of Judah, and continued until the eleventh year of Zedekiah, son of Josiah, king of Judah, until the people of Jerusalem were taken into exile in the fifth month of that year.
(Jeremiah 1:1-3 NET)

According to 2 Kings 22, Josiah started his reforms in his eighteenth year (2 Kings 22:3) by repairing the Temple. So, Jeremiah had been prophesying for 5 years by then. If you look at all the stuff taken from the temple during Josiah’s reform, Jeremiah is prophesying among pagan shrines, statues, altars and sacred poles inside the temple. It looked almost nothing like the building Solomon had built by then.

On the other hand, in 2 Chronicles 34, we’re told that Josiah actually started purifying the land before Jeremiah’s prophecies. In verse 3, it says the 8th year of his reign was when he started, 5 years prior to Jeremiah. Then, 5 years after Jeremiah begins, he cleans the temple. So, you might expect that Jeremiah has a lot to say to encourage this activity, right? You would think that he would speak of how great all these changes were, how fantastic the king was leading…

Or he could say this:

“So, once more I will state my case against you,” says the LORD.
“I will also state it against your children and grandchildren.
Go west across the sea to the coasts of Cyprus and see.
Send someone east to Kedar and have them look carefully.
See if such a thing as this has ever happened:
Has a nation ever changed its gods
(even though they are not really gods at all)?
But my people have exchanged me, their glorious God,
for a god that cannot help them at all!
Be amazed at this, O heavens.
Be shocked and utterly dumbfounded,”
says the LORD.
“Do so because my people have committed a double wrong:
They have rejected me,
the fountain of life-giving water,
and they have dug cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that cannot even hold water.
(Jeremiah 2:9-13 NET)

But wait, this was written during Josiah’s reign. How can that be? How can these reforms be happening, and Jeremiah hears this from Yahweh? Well, maybe this will help explain:

So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shullam son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, the supervisor of the wardrobe. (She lived in Jerusalem in the Mishneh district.) They stated their business, and she said to them: “This is what the LORD God of Israel has said: ‘Say this to the man who sent you to me: “This is what the LORD has said: ‘I am about to bring disaster on this place and its residents, all the things in the scroll that the king of Judah has read. This will happen because they have abandoned me and offered sacrifices to other gods, angering me with all the idols they have made. My anger will ignite against this place and will not be extinguished!’” Say this to the king of Judah, who sent you to seek an oracle from the LORD: “This is what the LORD God of Israel has said concerning the words you have heard: ‘You displayed a sensitive spirit and humbled yourself before the LORD when you heard how I intended to make this place and its residents into an appalling example of an accursed people. You tore your clothes and wept before me, and I have heard you,’ says the LORD. ‘Therefore I will allow you to die and be buried in peace. You will not have to witness all the disaster I will bring on this place.’”’” Then they reported back to the king.
2 Kings 22:14-20 NET

They don’t take the scroll to Jeremiah. But Jeremiah isn’t the only prophet. They do take it to one they know speaks for Yahweh, and she does. What she says is that all Josiah is doing will only save him from seeing the curses in this book, not save the nation. Why? Is it becoming obvious yet?

Even though they were led to worship faithfully, their hearts were not sold out to Yahweh. Josiah can do what he wants, destroy pagan altars, burn up pagan artifacts, smash them to dust and spread the dust on graves. The heart of the people aren’t in it. They simply watch, and go along with the “religion de jure”, knowing that once this king passes, all will return to “normal”. These people are so completely twisted away from Yahweh, listen to their perspective on all the disaster that Yahweh brings on them, destruction of Jerusalem, deportation of the people, all of it:

Then all the men who were aware that their wives were sacrificing to other gods, as well as all their wives, answered Jeremiah—there was a great crowd of them representing all the people who lived in northern and southern Egypt — “We will not listen to what you claim the LORD has spoken to us! Instead we will do everything we vowed we would do. We will sacrifice and pour out drink offerings to the goddess called the Queen of Heaven just as we and our ancestors, our kings, and our leaders previously did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, were well off, and had no troubles. But ever since we stopped sacrificing and pouring out drink offerings to the Queen of Heaven, we have been in great need. Our people have died in wars or of starvation.” The women added, “We did indeed sacrifice and pour out drink offerings to the Queen of Heaven. But it was with the full knowledge and approval of our husbands that we made cakes in her image and poured out drink offerings to her.”
(Jeremiah 44:15-19 NET, emphasis mine)

It seems impossible, doesn’t it? And yet, clearly, the reforms of Josiah did not reach the people’s heart, but only their actions. They went through the motions, but their heart was truly far from Yahweh. The appearance was great, but the substance was insufficient.

How about us? Are we more interested in appearance than substance? Are we more interested in how the band sounds, the singers, the lights? Are we singing our favorite songs? Is the preacher articulate? What’s the focus? Where is our attention?

Are we more focused on the gifts or the Giver of all good gifts? Are we focused on the work, or the One for Whom we work? Do we walk with our Savior? Do we even walk before our Savior? Or does our worship happen, and we hope He attends? Are we even aware we serve a KING, that we are subjects in a KINGDOM, or that we are not our own for we have been redeemed, purchased at an enormous price? 

These aren’t questions about what you do, but a heart check. Where’s the focus, what gets you upset, and how do you live out the worship from Sunday? Because if you don’t care, it won’t bother you. But if something bothers you, clearly, you care. I suppose, then, you can see what I care about…

What about you?

How Rejects are Accepted

Have you ever just wanted our Creator to cut-to-the-chase, and give us the “bottom line”? What does it take to be “accepted” by Him. Let’s be honest, it is Jesus, His death, burial, and resurrection that makes any sort of relationship with our Creator possible. But still…

Our behavior matters to our Savior. There are plenty of passages, statements of Jesus, writings of Paul, that clearly indicate that our Creator cares how we behave. So, what is it He wants from us? Can we sum it up? For the Jews of Jesus’ day, it was Sabbath-keeping and circumcision. That was pretty much it. Sounds weird huh? And yet…

This is what the LORD says,
“Promote justice! Do what is right!
For I am ready to deliver you;
I am ready to vindicate you openly.
The people who do this will be blessed,
the people who commit themselves to obedience,
who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it,
who refrain from doing anything that is wrong.
(Isaiah 56:1-2 NET)

Sounds pretty simple, promote justice and do what is “right”. Commit ourselves to obedience and guard the Sabbath. Wait, what? The Sabbath? I know, right? What’s up with this Sabbath-keeping business? Is it really important? Well…yes.

No foreigner who becomes a follower of the LORD should say,
‘The LORD will certainly exclude me from his people.’
The eunuch should not say,
‘Look, I am like a dried-up tree.’”
For this is what the LORD says:
“For the eunuchs who observe my Sabbaths
and choose what pleases me
and are faithful to my covenant,
I will set up within my temple and my walls a monument
that will be better than sons and daughters.
I will set up a permanent monument for them that will remain.
(Isaiah 56:3-5 NET)

Foreigners and eunuchs were excluded from worship, from the temple (Deuteronomy 23:1-8). And yet, here we have them included, if they observe the Sabbath, choose what pleases their Creator, and are faithful to His covenant. If eunuchs do that, their Creator will setup a monument better than sons and daughters…Seriously? But what about “foreigners”?

No foreigner who becomes a follower of the LORD should say,
‘The LORD will certainly exclude me from his people.’
The eunuch should not say,
‘Look, I am like a dried-up tree.’”

As for foreigners who become followers of the LORD and serve him,
who love the name of the LORD and want to be his servants—
all who observe the Sabbath and do not defile it,
and who are faithful to my covenant—
I will bring them to my holy mountain;
I will make them happy in the temple where people pray to me.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar,
for my temple will be known as a temple where all nations may pray.”
The Sovereign LORD says this,
the one who gathers the dispersed of Israel:
“I will still gather them up.”
(Isaiah 56:3, 6-8 NET)

Oy with the Sabbath-keeping! If foreigners keep the covenant and the Sabbath, their Creator will bring them to His holy mountain, to His temple, to His place of prayer, their sacrifices will be accepted. His temple will be known as a house of prayer. Sound familiar? Maybe something Jesus said when He “cleansed” the temple?

Notice this doesn’t replace exiled Israel, they will still be gathered up, but along with these previously excluded groups. And what is the sign of their obedience? What is the activity by which they will be known to their Savior? Sabbath-keeping. How weird is that?

Here’s a real simple take away: Attend church. Go, participate, worship. And don’t stop once the scheduled service is over. Dedicate the day, live out the message you heard, make real the songs you sang. Set your week by the day starting it off. Dedicate yourself to your Savior and your time for the whole day to His purpose.

Honestly, I don’t. Yesterday, I rearranged my home-office to make it more functional (it’s different anyway). But I think this passage may be pushing me to rethink my Sunday’s. Not that I should only worship or serve my Savior on Sunday, but that this one day should His, not mine.

He made the Sabbath for us, not us for the Sabbath, but He still made it. And it seems He wants us to take it seriously. What will that look like? I don’t know, honestly. I think it may look different for you than for me. All I know that He wants me to honor Him with it.

Pagan Messiahs?

Unworthy. Ever felt that way? It seems there was an instructor to preachers who claimed that, “If God could speak through Balaam’s ass, He can speak through you.” Oddly, that never helped me much. It’s the challenge to believe that my worth is entirely founded on Jesus: dead, buried, and raised.

While I know that Jesus’ death atoned for my offenses toward my Creator, and I know His burial removed the safety of the enemy, and I know it is the power of His resurrection that empowers my walk with Him; I don’t always feel those things. This is no surprise to my Savior, so He preserves this odd poetic prophecy in Isaiah 45. It begins with this statement:

“This is what the LORD says to his chosen one,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I hold
in order to subdue nations before him,
and disarm kings,
to open doors before him,
so gates remain unclosed:
‘I will go before you
and level mountains.
Bronze doors I will shatter
and iron bars I will hack through. (Isaiah 45:1-2 NET)

In case you were curious, “chosen one” is actually the Hebrew word, messiah. You can see the Strong’s reference here. Notice that it has a special reference to “Cyrus”. That’s because this reference is weird. You might think that’s because God knows that Cyrus’ heart will change toward him, but those kings are Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, in Daniel. Cyrus’ heart is never said to have acknowledged the God of Israel.

As this poetic prophecy continues, Yahweh says He gives Cyrus a bunch of blessings to reveal Himself to him. Look at the following verses:

I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stashed away in secret places,
so you may recognize that I am the LORD,
the one who calls you by name, the God of Israel.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
Israel, my chosen one,
I call you by name
and give you a title of respect, even though you do not submit to me.
I am the LORD, I have no peer,
there is no God but me.
I arm you for battle, even though you do not recognize me. (Isaiah 45:3-5 NET)

God gives this pagan king “hidden treasures”, “title of respect” and “arms him for battle”, all this even though “you do not submit to me” and “you do not recognize me”. Why? “For the sake of my servant, Jacob, Israel my chosen one”. Unfortunately, the NET translators chose “chosen one” for both the Hebrew adjective “chosen” in verse 4, and “messiah” in verse 1. That’s not really helpful, in my opinion. Even so, it’s clear God uses this pagan king in spite of his lack of acknowledgement of the God of Israel.

The prophecy concludes with these verses:

I do this so people will recognize from east to west
that there is no God but me;
I am the LORD, I have no peer.
I am the one who forms light
and creates darkness;
the one who brings about peace
and creates calamity.
I am the LORD, who accomplishes all these things. (Isaiah 45:6-7 NET)

So we’re clear about this, when there is only one God, even evil has its source in Him. Which is why the verse has the line, “the One making peace and creating evil”. It almost never is translated that way, but check out the King James Version. And that’s not embarrassing, it’s true, and should give us encouragement.

Don’t focus on God creating “evil”, focus on the whole point of these two verses: There is no god (no Elohim) but Yahweh, He has no peer, no equal, no true rival. All things, whether we like them or not, have their ultimate source in Him. Which means, they also can be destroyed by Him. And yet, that’s not even the best part.

Now go back and read all seven verses together. Our Creator uses this boastful pagan king to accomplish His plan. Cyrus can boast, conquer, posture, threaten, do whatever, but, in the end, remains a tool of his Creator. And, so it is today.

In our country, some have celebrated the new president, some have lamented. Some were sure the previous guy was the “antichrist”, others think it’s the new guy. I look at Isaiah 45, and I think, who cares? As long as our Creator remains on His throne (no worries there), any ruler, of any type, will merely be His pawn, for His purposes. That view of history can be really unsettling, considering the horrific leaders who have marred the history of this world.

Closer to home, though, if my Master can use such kings, then, even with my flaws, He can use me. He can use you. Perhaps, you might say, the more flaws, the more He shines. Why? So that people, from the east to the west, will recognize that our Creator has no competitor. 

Okay, if I have no other purpose than that, that’ll work.