Getting Off Track

One of the problems with daily life is how it gets us off the track of our daily walk. Our Creator wants to walk with us in His garden in the cool of the day. But, often, our needs and tasks of a day keep us from such walks. We’re busy, and often too busy for our Creator.

Of course, there are times, rare precious times, when our Creator no longer waits for the walks to be our idea, and He invades our day:

Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “ I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Exodus 3:1 — 4 NASB)

Moses is in the wilderness, shepherding sheep. He used to walk the halls of Pharaoh’s palace, and ride chariots. He even tried to help his people once, but only once, which nearly cost him his life. Now, he’s on the run from his grandfather who wants to kill him, sojourning among a strange people. But he’s started a family, he’s making a good life of it here, he’s accepted his circumstances. Of course now Yahweh intervenes in his life, wants to disrupt everything, and is concerned for the Hebrews. Where was He 40 years ago?

You’ve never been there? You’ve never felt like a foreigner in a foreign land? Never tried to make the best of your circumstances by settling in for the duration? Never figured resistance was fruitless? That’s truly a shame. Because we’re all strangers in a strange land. And some of us have settled in for the duration. It’s probably the other people at your church, not you. In many ways it’s me. If it’s not you, you are free to move on to the next blog.

I tell people my occupation when I asked who I am. The truth is, actually, I am different than my occupation. Hopefully, that’s true for you as well. I’m a theologian and teacher. I am those things because my Creator has called me and designed me for those things. Moses was a deliverer of the Hebrews because that’s what his Creator created him for. Who are you?

Like me, you may be in dire need of a distracting bush fire. At first, it will seem disruptive. People, probably your family, will consider you an idiot for being distracted. There will be pressure to go back to settling in for the duration. And yet, the Creator calls, once He notices that He has your attention. “Moses, Moses!” The question, the challenge, before us is, at that point, will we respond as Moses, saying, “Behold, I!” When you say it, bowing on the ground, it feels different than it does reading it. It seems odd, until you try it. Almost all translations have, “Here I am!” And that’s weird enough. Try the Hebrew idiom, though, and try it from the position of bowing face down on the floor. It’s still weird, but somehow right.

What will we do? How will we respond? Do you see the bush on fire? Are you distracted enough to check it out? Do you hear the voice, calling your name? The choice is there, right there: continue making the best of a bad situation, or turn aside to the created purpose. Will we be what we were designed for, or will we continue to be strangers, making our way in a strange land?


Following A Rough Act

Paul says for wives to submit to their husbands.  That’s a tough instruction to follow since we husbands can be so frustratingly human, and some husbands are more human than others.  But what about the husband who really tries, but simply doesn’t get it?  How difficult is it to submit to such a one?  The wife of Manoah works very hard at it.

There was a certain man of Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had borne no children.  Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. (Judges 13:2-3 NASB)

One of the elements to this story that jumps out at me every time is how God goes to the wife first.  He’s willing to deal with Manoah, but He clearly prefers the wife.  And Manoah’s wife dutifully goes to him with the whole story, submitting to his spiritual leadership in the process.

Then the woman came and told her husband, saying, “A man of God came to me and his appearance was like the appearance of the angel of God, very awesome. And I did not ask him where he came from, nor did he tell me his name.  But he said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and now you shall not drink wine or strong drink nor eat any unclean thing, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.'” (Judges 13:6-7 NASB)

Manoah’s wife tells him all that the Angel of Yahweh told her, and then adds two strange elements.  First, she didn’t ask where he was from, and second, she didn’t catch his name.  Regardless of how the Angel of Yahweh looked, she still felt compelled to get his name and origin.  This could possibly be because she knew Manoah would want to know, because we see immediately following, that he wants the Angel back to ask Him himself.

God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her.  So the woman ran quickly and told her husband, “Behold, the man who came the other day has appeared to me.” (Judges 13:9-10 NASB)

Yahweh answers Manoah’s prayer to resend the messenger, but He still goes to the wife.  She, again, dutifully fetches Manoah.  Manoah then proceeds to ask the Messenger, not about how to raise the boy, but about who or what he will be.  This is the part God already told the wife.  I can’t help but imagine the wife in the background doing a forehead-palm slap (I should of had a V-8!).  Finally, when the Angel of Yahweh ascends in the flame, Manoah realizes Who He is.  But he’s still not thinking straight.

So Manoah said to his wife, “We will surely die, for we have seen God.”  But his wife said to him, “If the LORD had desired to kill us, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, nor would He have shown us all these things, nor would He have let us hear things like this at this time.” (Judges 13:22-23 NASB)

Manoah and wife are quite a pair.  And, if it isn’t obvious already, let me point out that this guy clearly “married up”.  Wives, submit to your husbands, not because we’re brilliant, because we’re not.  Don’t submit because we have somehow earned it, because we haven’t.  Don’t endanger yourself, but don’t despise the fool either.  Our roles are assigned to us by God Himself, and He does so for His glory.  Sometimes He shines brightest through the dimmest people.

That’s my view through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?

The Angel of the Lord

Have you ever been asked what you would do if Jesus Himself came for a visit?  Or what you might do if you ran into Him on the street, grocery store, or out and about somewhere?  How about if you car-pooled with Him to work, what would you do or say?  Well, what if such questions weren’t hypothetical?  Are you uneasy yet?

Then the angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Behold now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and give birth to a son. (Judges 13:3 NASB)

God listened to the voice of Manoah; and the angel of God came again to the woman as she was sitting in the field, but Manoah her husband was not with her. (Judges 13:9 NASB)

Then Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “Please let us detain you so that we may prepare a young goat for you.”  The angel of the LORD said to Manoah, “Though you detain me, I will not eat your food, but if you prepare a burnt offering, then offer it to the LORD.” For Manoah did not know that he was the angel of the LORD.  Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, “What is your name, so that when your words come to pass, we may honor you?”  But the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?”  So Manoah took the young goat with the grain offering and offered it on the rock to the LORD, and He performed wonders while Manoah and his wife looked on.  For it came about when the flame went up from the altar toward heaven, that the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame of the altar. When Manoah and his wife saw this, they fell on their faces to the ground.  Now the angel of the LORD did not appear to Manoah or his wife again. Then Manoah knew that he was the angel of the LORD. (Judges 13:15-21 NASB)

In previous posts, the case has been made to view the Angel of Yahweh and the Angel of God as “God-Visible”.  In the book of Judges, the Angel of the Yahweh shows up fairly frequently.  Judges 13 is the third time the character appears, and where He is the most frequently mentioned.  And we also have the most impressive suggestion He is Yahweh Himself.

Walking through the account, the Angel of Yahweh appears to the wife of Manoah and announces the birth of Samson in verse 3.  There are several details given of his life, but he is to be one of a rare set of lifetime Nazarites.  The wife goes to the husband who also wants to meet this Announcer, and prays that Yahweh would send Him again.  And He does.

The second appearance of the Angel of God (the author switches from Yahweh to Elohim) to the wife of Manoah happens, and she runs to get her husband.  And then follows an interesting dialogue containing clues about this Character’s divinity.

Manoah wants to prepare a meal, which is fitting in Near Eastern cultural hospitality.  The Angel’s response is that He won’t eat, “…but if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to Yahweh.”  And the author adds, “For Manoah did not know that he was the Angel of Yahweh.”

The second clue comes when Manoah asks the Angel’s name.  The Angel replies that His name is “wonderful”, which is used in just about every version.  The word translated “wonderful” is a rare Hebrew word, “pali” (only used twice).  But this noun is related to the verb in the next verse (19) normally translated “doing wonders”.  This verb is much more common in the Hebrew Scriptures, and, in verse 19, it’s in a form for “causing wonders”.

In verse 19, the writer switches from active verbs to participles, possibly to heighten the intensity of the action.  One of those participles is “causing wonders”, but the author left out the “subject” or person, a grammatical element not part of this verb form.  The choices for subject are Yahweh using proximity (ended the previous phrase), Manoah using the subject of the preceding phrase, or the Angel of Yahweh as the only other character present.

The choice of subject for “causing wonders” directly impacts the theological understanding of who the Angel of Yahweh is.  In verse 20, the author describes the “wonder” performed.  The Angel of Yahweh ascends in the flame of the burnt offering to heaven.  So, if Yahweh performs the wonder, then the Angel was acted upon, and isn’t necessarily Yahweh Himself.  But, if the Angel is the subject, then He performs the wonder in His ascent in the flame, and He becomes the One Causing Wonders.

The author’s intent seems to be clear in the reaction of Manoah and his wife to this wonder.  First, they fall to the ground, and then Manoah realizes that this was the Angel of Yahweh.  In this realization, he believes they will die for they have seen the face of Yahweh.  Clearly the perception of the people in the day of the Judges, and possibly in the day of the author of Judges, is that this character, the Angel of Yahweh, is Yahweh Himself.

The majority of biblical scholars don’t hold this view.  The most common belief is that the Angel of Yahweh is simply another angel announcing the messages.  The view deifying the angel has an element of reading a modern perspective into the text.  It could be that, in ancient near eastern writing and thinking, a message carried were the words of the one sending (see Judges 11:12 where messengers are sent, but Jephthah speaks).  Seen this way, the message from Yahweh does not require the messenger to be Yahweh Himself.

While this appears to have an element of truth to it, the reaction of Manoah and his wife imply otherwise.  They understood the messenger to be Yahweh.  Did the author and his audience?  Even if the author and his audience understood the messenger to be Yahweh, should we?  Is that what God intends for us to believe, or should we simply withhold judgement?  That’s your choice.  I believe the people of the time, the author, and his audience were right, the Angel of Yahweh is Yahweh Himself.

Where I go with this though is to also believe He can appear today.  So, in my view, be careful who you entertain and how you treat them.  Your guest could be divine.

What’s your view through your 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 in visible form. Only here does God go for a strenuous walk. He goes up from Gilgal to Bochim, which, depending on where you believe Bochim to be, is all up hill. But regardless of how far or in which direction, God begins His walk where His people began.  Gilgal is still the place they started their conquest of Canaan, and where they reestablished their covenant with Him.

The message from Yahweh is that He held up His end of the bargain, He brought them out from Egypt and gave them this land.  This land was what He had promised to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.  All three were buried among the hills on which they stood listening to Yahweh speak to them.  Notice the agreement, Yahweh makes a covenant He will not break, and the people make no covenant with the inhabitants, replacing their worship with His.  Not terribly complex.

Did you also notice His affirmation that He will never break His covenant? Remember that this is how He starts out His harsh words to them. Part of the harshness is because Yahweh has obligated Himself to them.  It’s not because they are so good, and it can’t be because of their father’s righteousness.  Yahweh chose them in spite of their failures.  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.  Yahweh has obligated Himself to a people who refuse to be obligated to Him.

So, Yahweh modifies the agreement somewhat.  He declares that, if they will not drive them out, then He will use them to correct His people. The people changed covenant, and Yahweh just rolls with it. The people of God, the Sons of Israel, the Children of Abraham, were becoming just like everyone else. They began to lose their distinctiveness.  So, Yahweh begins to use that against them.  They chose compromise, and Yahweh made it expensive.

Compromise is, more or less, how this sort of conquest went in those days. The Babylonians and Assyrians, were both 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.   Compromise and adaptation were how people survived.

The God responsible for bringing these Children of Abraham back to the land of Canaan wasn’t interested in how things had always worked 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?  Apparently, it’s not the point of our Master.  So, how expensive does it have to become for us to stop the compromise?

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

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?

A Little More Ready

If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!  But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into.  You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:38-40 ESV)

One of the ironies of Jesus’ teaching about His “return” in this historical context is that He hadn’t left yet.  Keep in mind that His disciples hadn’t yet accepted that He’s going to “leave” in any sense.  You also do well to remember that His resurrection may well have provided them the “return” in their minds, at least for 40 days or so.  So, in the actual context of Jesus saying these things they were baffling to His disciples.

I recently had a pastor tell me that calling Jesus’ final return the “Second Coming” was really misleading.  His point was that Jesus had been “visiting” this place a lot, even before His birth.  Why should be surprised to find that He’s visiting a few times before His “Return”?  That really got me thinking.  I don’t know where the term “Second Coming” actually came from, but I can’t think of a single Scripture that refers to Jesus’ final return with that term.  Could it be possible that we are as baffled as the disciples as to what Jesus teaches here?

The possibility of “entertaining angels” is one thing, but to consider that we could be entertaining the “Angel of the Lord” is actually quite frightening.  Think that through.  What if Jesus, in the form or office as the Angel of the Lord, does visit you?  Would you be comfortable having Him “checking in” on you?  “Thought I’d drop by for a visit,” He says, “How’s it going?” You reply.  For me, it could get very uncomfortable very quick.

I’m not saying that Jesus does this, but why couldn’t He?  He seems to have before (see an entry in my previous blog), and by this I mean a physical manifestation of God, often in human form (the burning bush was also referred to as the Angel of the Lord).  So, if Jesus has been here, or God has been here in physical human form, then what would prevent Him from showing up from time to time now?  I have to admit, it would be nice to have such an appearance now and again.  It often looks as if the church really needs a “visitation”.

But I also see in these prior examples that He shows up to one person, somewhat like the “…Almighty” movies with Morgan Freeman.  On the other hand He seems to “visit” believers.  So, a solitary believer might actually see Jesus, but who’d believe them?  I don’t think it’s about who would believe them, it’s about what they would do different after having seen Jesus.  Jesus’ appearances apart from His earthly ministry, were not for public consumption, not as our culture consumes anyway.  Jesus comes to help a person make a big change.

So, in that sort of light, am I ready? Is my lamp trimmed? Am I awake and ready to be visited by the Maker of all Matter?  And not for the end of the world, but for the end of my faithlessness, the end of my struggles with certainty, the end of my wishy-washy meandering I call “following Jesus”.  Are you ready?  Would you be ready to fire up the grill for the One having made the cow you’re about to throw on it? (Yes, I believe Jesus prefers beef, so what?) Well, I suggest we all be ready for a surprise visit from Jesus.  You just never know who’s coming to dinner.

What do you learn from Jesus’ call to be ready?