How Does He NOT Know?

Then the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak that was in Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in order to save it from the Midianites.  The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, “The LORD is with you, O valiant warrior.”  Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.” (Judges 6:11-13 NASB)

Then Gideon built an altar there to the LORD and named it The LORD is Peace. To this day it is still in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.  Now on the same night the LORD said to him, “Take your father’s bull and a second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal which belongs to your father, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it; and build an altar to the LORD your God on the top of this stronghold in an orderly manner, and take a second bull and offer a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah which you shall cut down.” (Judges 6:24-26 NASB)

The Angel of the Lord is Yahweh, Himself, in visible form, dressed for a visit.  He goes to a guy threshing wheat where there is no wind, a wine press.  That’s a job that will take a while, and will seem pointless through much of it.  Gideon can’t be happy.  At the point of the visit, his life is pretty much at an all-time low.  Hence his reply to his Creator.

It’s Gideon’s reply that is so incredibly ironic though.  “Why…”  It’s a good question for someone suffering wrongfully.  It’s a good question for the righteous man to ask of God, like Job, for instance.  The impression received from the question is that Gideon asks from a standpoint of innocence.

At first I thought, perhaps, it was the prophet who reminded the people about Yahweh.  Perhaps the previous generation had forgotten to pass down the stories.  Yet Gideon replies to this Yahweh that the “…miracles which our fathers told us about…” were lacking at the moment.  It seems they hadn’t forgotten to pass down the stories.

So, then I figured that Gideon didn’t know that it was wrong to serve Yahweh and Baal…and Asherah, and so on.  That’s possible.  He at least knows that the people around him won’t like being exclusive.  He immediately builds an altar to Yahweh, there at the wine press.  And he tears down his father’s Baal altar… in the dark.

But think about it.  His first task given to him by Yahweh is to tear down his father’s altar to Baal, and the Asherah pole next to it.  There is an altar to Baal and an Asherah in the front yard.  And Gideon has the audacity to ask, “Where is Yahweh, and why has He abandoned us?”  Are you kidding me?  Seriously, he doesn’t get that?

The condition of the people of God at this point in their history is shocking, or should shock us.  We should be slapping our foreheads, going, “REALLY?”.  The thing is, we’re not.  Instead, we glibly read through, barely stopping to notice the incongruity before us.  Gideon is a hero, and heroes are great people.  Keep reading, we have a lot to get through.

But when we stop and look at what is happening, it should startle us.  It was supposed to startle the author’s audience when written.  It was supposed to shock them into realizing what they were doing, how they treated Yahweh.  They were supposed to see how boneheaded ignorant they were.  And that’s what is supposed to happen to us.

Is gathering together as believers something that only happens once a week?  Does it happen in a large crowded venue?  Are you able to hide there, choose not to interact?  Does your experience as a “church-going” follower of Jesus make a minimal impact on your time during the week?  People, there is probably an altar in your yard, and you don’t even realize it’s a problem.

Is your church constantly preaching about giving, and wanting you to give more, and harping on how much it doesn’t have…are you tithing?  Is all you have, God’s, and you’re simply the steward?  Would your neighbors say you’re weird because you clearly honor God with all your stuff, money, and time?  Or do you look and act a lot like them?  There could be an altar in your yard you have learned to pretend isn’t there.

You see where this going?  Do you need another example?  Okay, what would your kids say about your devotion to God?  Would they, one, say you’re truly devoted; and, two, want that for themselves?  Or does your attitude toward, and your treatment of, your family deviate widely from what you say you believe?  Do you have an altar to yourself in the yard, one you’ve been using regularly, but pretending is something else?

Are you sufficiently depressed? Has conviction angered or saddened you to near uselessness this morning?  As my dad would say, “Have I gotten your goat?”  I still don’t know what that means, by the way.  I mean, I do, from the way he used it, but why does it mean that?  So, if you take my goat, does that mean I mow my yard myself?  Maybe that’s a good thing.  Maybe I’ll get tired of mowing around the altar, and TEAR IT DOWN!

Stay tuned.  It gets better.  God didn’t reject Gideon for being an ignorant moron.  So, we’re probably safe.  Be honest about it, though.  That’s the process of repentance, honesty about who and what we are before God.  Seeing ourselves for who we really are, and then appreciating what He does for us, is rearranging our mind to be like His.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning.  What do you see?

Perspective On Sin

Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.  For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them.  So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey.  For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. (Judges 6:1-5 NASB)

Context and perspective are everything?  Well, no, not really.  We say that, but then we tend to “emphasize” a particular perspective to suit our desired point.  Our behavior differs from our pithy statement.  Perspective isn’t everything. Actually, we focus on what we want, and find a perspective that supports that conclusion.

The writer of Judges has an audience.  They have these kings who, every other generation, wander from God.  It’s frustrating, and causes no end of confusion.  It’s not that they don’t know who the One True God is, but for one reason or another, these kings add another god into the worship of Yahweh.  The writer of Judges points out that this is nothing new.

But there are things about the time of the judges which are very different from the time of the kings.  For instance, without a central standing army, nomadic peoples can descend on Canaan and overwhelm the farmers.  And that is what’s happening here.  The writer of Judges has the perspective that this happens due to the people’s sin.  That’s his perspective.

On the other hand, this also affects the Canaanites who have not been driven out, the Philistines living in the plains, and the “city folk” who don’t live on farms.  We sometimes forget to view these descriptions with the “response to sin” removed.

At this time, Egypt is busy getting their stuff together, recovering from a recent occupation.  Mesopotamia is between empires at the moment.  The kings of Syria haven’t yet arisen, and the Hittites are still in the mountains of Asia Minor.  It’s pretty much up to the squabbling city-states of Canaan to address this issue.

The land is in chaos during the time of the judges.  The Canaanites of Meggido have iron chariots, but they do them no good against the camel cavalry of the desert nomads.  The only option in response to these migrant invaders is to hide the produce in mountain strongholds and caves.  And that is only partially effective.

Saying that seven years of these nomadic invaders comes as a response to the sin of the Sons of Israel is one perspective.  It’s one that interprets the events of that day in light of the relationship of the people, chosen by Yahweh, to be His people.  Whenever they chose not to be “exclusive” in their relationship with Yahweh, they suffered.

But this perspective does not address all the “bad” stuff that happened to the people.  Some bad stuff happened while the people were following Yahweh.  We’re not given those events.  They don’t support the author’s point.  On the other hand, he never says they don’t happen.  We know they had to happen.  This author sticks to his point, his perspective supports it, and other points are left to others to make.

These events are what they are.  The perspective used to derive meaning from the events can vary.  But, the choice of perspective is driven by the author’s intended point to make to his audience.  The chosen message for this author is that, when God’s chosen people are unfaithful to Yahweh, He permits them to suffer.  That is not to say that this is the only time people suffer.  But it does point out that God holds His people accountable for their actions.

That perspective isn’t an error.  It’s true.  It’s not the only explanation of why bad things happen, but it was never intended to be.  Later on, during the reign of Hezekiah, Assyria attacks Judah, and gets all the way to Jerusalem.  Yet Hezekiah and the people are doing well with God.  So, why did the Assyrians have so much success?  Answering that question wasn’t the author’s point, so we aren’t told.  But, we are told that God used that attack to demonstrate His power over even earthly powers considered unbeatable.  But only the Sons of Israel were given that point or perspective.

The unfaithfulness of the Sons of Israel was the explanation of why the nomadic peoples were able to oppress the land.  The reason given for most of the events in Judges is the same.  God holds His people accountable for their relationship with Him.  That point is supposed to be our take-away, our lesson, our insight gained from Judges.  So, keeping that point in mind, what’s going on in our world?  Are there things that indicate we may not be honoring our relationship with God?

God still holds His people accountable for their relationship with Him.  We live under a new covenant, but it’s still a covenant.  There are things for us and for God by which to abide in order to be faithful to the covenant.  He has done His part through His Son, Jesus.  We do our part when we rely on Him, and put this relationship ahead of every other, including ourselves.

Stuff happens when we are not faithful.  Stuff often happens anyway, but why ask for more?  Why not be faithful and avoid additional problems.  Isn’t closeness with God what makes it easier to get through the stuff of this life anyway?  If we have a solid relationship with the Creator of the universe, what else matters anyway?  If nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39), then why does stuff bother us?  The only stuff that should bother us is the stuff our Master uses to bring us back to Him.  The other stuff just deepens what we already have with Him.

Well, that’s my perspective through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?

Passion Week XXXIII

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two.  And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.” Having said this, He breathed His last. (Luke 23:44-46 NASB)

One of places all of the accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion seem to agree is the timing.  Except for John, who leaves the timing out completely, all the Gospel accounts seem to agree on the timing based on the darkness that covered the earth.  From the sixth hour until the ninth, darkness fell over the earth.  Only Luke, of the three, attributes this darkness to an eclipse.  He actually uses the technical term for it of his day.

A solar eclipse occurred as Jesus hung bleeding on the cross.  There have been many things written on the significance of this.  The position I have taken has been that Jesus had to suffer death in the form of separation from God as the penalty for sin for all mankind.  But I have also believed that this happened when He breathed His last, and lasted for the three days He was in the tomb.  Now, I’m not so sure about that timing.

What does the darkness mean?  Considering that the Creator of the universe set that date and time in place as He created the universe, as it was marked by an eclipse, the timing must be important.  Jesus lives through it, and breathes His last on the other side.  Or does He?  Luke says that the veil of the temple was torn, then Jesus cries out, committing His Spirit to the Father, then dies.  The other Gospels include only one other detail, Jesus asking why He has been forsaken.  Other than that, they agree, which presents an interesting option for timing.

It’s possible that Jesus breathes His last, and then the eclipse concludes, revealing the sun once more.  Consider the dramatic conclusion to this life, that, as He breathes out, the sun slides from behind the moon to illuminate his Creator’s body suspended in death upon a cross.  Why the sun now of all times?  Why not the darkness from that point?  But the  image translates what was considered a defeat into the illumination of a victory.  Jesus says Himself, “It is finished.”  And so the sun can, once more, reappear to reveal the body of his Creator.  Only now, that body is all that’s left…for now.

So, while Jesus hung for those three hours of darkness, what was happening?  At the end of them, Jesus cries out asking why He has been forsaken, and the temple veil is torn from top to bottom.  He commits His Spirit into the hands of the Father, and dies.  Although, I believe that, even though He breathed His last at the ninth hour, Jesus dies at the sixth.

What is the penalty of sin?  According to Romans 6:23, sin earns death.  According to Isaiah 59:2, our iniquities have caused a separation between us and God, and He hides His face from us, and does not hear.  In the Garden, God tells Adam that the very day he eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he will certainly die.  Yet, the day they ate of the tree, Adam and Eve are banished from the Garden, and have children.  Did the “wages” change?  It could be important that the banishment from the Garden is the last recorded communication between Adam and God.

The impression left from this cursory examination of sin may redefine death.  Jesus, in order to pay this penalty for sin, would need to suffer that separation from God.  God would have to hide His face and not hear Jesus.  And this would be in keeping with God’s definition of death.  The problem of Jesus’ deity aside, the payment remains the same.  Just as the Trinity, the triune nature of God, is inexplicable, so too would be how Jesus could pay this debt.  Regardless of how, He did.  And so, I believe He did so, and as He does so, the sun is hidden behind the moon.

I believe Jesus dies in the sixth hour, is separated from the Father for three hours, and then breathes His last.  And is then joined by the criminal in paradise?  So it would seem.  Wouldn’t it be supremely ironic if, as Jesus breathes His last, He lives again?  The sun reappears.  For those at the cross who witness Jesus’ last breath, it’s over, and He dies.  But for the Father, that isn’t necessarily so.  The reunion of Spirit and body hasn’t happened yet, but does Jesus’ connection with the Father resume when He breathes His last and the sun reappears?  Or is the sun’s reemergence a promise of the hope to be revealed in three days?  Does the Father foreshadow Sunday on Friday?  I’m not sure.  But that day Jesus stands with a redeemed criminal in paradise.

What’s your view of Jesus through your knothole?

Forced Transparency

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops. (Luke 12:2-3 ESV)

These two verses are terrifying to me.  For one who has spent so much of his life in shadows, such “light” applied so thoroughly to those shadows is frightening.  There’s a reason I liked the shadows.  When I was a kid, like every kid, I was afraid of the dark.  But then, at some point, something changed, and I loved it.  It was like a comfort.  That should have been scary enough, or at least a warning to me.

In my home growing up, the “secrets” were pretty benign.  We didn’t have abuse or anything, but we did have disease and its affects.  We did work within a system that seemed to require a certain amount of secrecy.  “Don’t ask, don’t tell”; if the information wasn’t requested, don’t give it.  I suppose what I remember were more “lies of omission”, but again, pretty benign when compared to the horror stories I’ve heard from other families.  It wasn’t bad, so it seemed acceptable.  It wasn’t until I was older that I figured out that those two are not exactly the same thing, merely related, and not even that all the time.

The reality I’m coming to understand from Scripture is that the cliche about God knowing everything about me is only part of the story.  The other part is that He wants everyone to know everything about me too.  When He describes the life full of light, and the “singleness” of sight, and other means to describe complete transparency, I get really uncomfortable.  Yet, what He wants among His people is for them to be fearlessly transparent with each other.  For someone who actually likes the dark, that’s not really comfortable, not at all.  My life isn’t that…”good” that I’m willing to be that transparent, with anyone.

Ironically though, I’m realizing that it’s this transparency that my Master has designed as His path out of the darkness of my “hidden sins”.  I want to get cleaned up first, but He wants to clean me using this transparency.  In a way, it’s this transparency that enables Him to use others to achieve my sanctification.  The transparency opens myself up to the accountability which then provides the context to choose life each minute.  Sure, it would be nice to have the power within myself to make those choices, but my Master seems determined to make and keep my dependent upon my fellow believers and followers.  The Holy Spirit coming along side to help me chooses to use those around me to facilitate the changes He wants to make.  To borrow another cliche, it takes a village to live a life pleasing to God.  Another way of looking at it is that salvation is lived out within the context of a church, or it’s not lived out.  Although I suppose it would depend upon the church.

See where this enforced honesty and openness is so unnerving?  So, I need to be transparent, but I also need to be in a church where transparency is at least accepted rather than rejected.  I don’t think everyone in the church need be transparent, I’d be able to use the excuse that I can’t find such a church, and therefore don’t need to be transparent myself.  That won’t fool my Master.  As long as the church doesn’t disassociate with me, kick me out, or reject me out of hand for the transparency, it should be effective.  But there are other dangers in transparency.  Confessing my sin could spread it’s affect to another, weaker brother or sister.  That would be counter productive.  Care should be taken not to hurt others, but such restraint should be driven by my love for them, not my fear of confessing my sin.  It doesn’t change the need for transparency.

Going back to where we started, there’s really no point to keeping my sin secret.  Jesus is pointing out that it doesn’t matter where you speak it, it will be found out and become public (politics 101).  So, I (and you) might as well be transparent.  It won’t matter what we try to hide anyway.  I guess for me the trick will be ensuring that I’m not spiritually “streaking” where everyone is affected, some adversely, by my openness.  But the important part is to do it rather than simply write about it.

What do you learn from Jesus’ declaration there will be no secrets?