Writing on the Wall

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Photo credit to Keith Patschka.

 

“Then Daniel answered and said before the king, ‘Let your gifts be to yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation.’” (Daniel 5;17)

 
Today I’m thinking about seeing the writing on the wall. The problem is that most of us can see the writing on the wall but we have no idea what it means. There it is, right in front of us plain as day, but we are clueless to it’s impact for us. Sometimes we’re just as clueless as Belshazzar.

 
Belshazzar was king of Babylon. His reign followed that of Nebuchadnezzar. He’s also frequently referred to here as the son of Nebuchadnezzar. That’s a constant implication that he should have been more alert and have responded differently in his ruling than he chose to, considering the things that Nebuchadnezzar had learned about God before him. But let’s look back at the immediate story.

 
Let’s set the stage. It’s the beginning of the third year of Belshazzar’s reign. He calls a great feast with hordes of important people and lots of wine drinking. That can be a normal thing for kings. But then he decided that wasn’t enough. His pride got the better of him and he called for the sacred golden and silver vessels that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem. Those he would use to drink his wine and thank the the gods of his choosing. It was a way to mock God and say that He was no god. So they drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, and of iron, of wood, and of stone —all those idols made by men’s hands and imaginations, and mocked the God of creation who created their very hands and the intimate workings of their bodies that were able to sustain them and enable them to even appreciate the taste of the wine they were mocking Him with.

 
I’m wondering if Belshazzar was aware of what Daniel knew, that the 70 year reign of Babylon was coming to a close?  I mean, after all, he was surrounded with all these counselors who would be aware of prophecies about the kingdom. Daniel himself was the chief of the chief of counselors. But Belshazzar was a human being like us, and sometimes we choose to ignore the truth and choose, instead, what we want to believe. But you can only ignore the truth for so long. See, lies are like idols. They are not real and have no weight when push comes to shove. But truth, it always comes through in it’s time. Truth will always make itself known. You can’t hold it back. Especially when it’s God’s truth.

 
And that’s what happens. God shows up. It’s pretty terrifying. These fingers of a human hand appeared. It was just the fingers; not the rest of the body. And it was big enough for everyone to see. Now that’s a party stopper! And these fingers write on the plaster of the wall of the palace. The king is watching and his color changes, and he’s thinking, “Holy mackerel, what in the world?!” He was terrified, his legs forgot how to hold him up, and his knees clattered together. He called for the Chaldeans, the wise men to come in and interpret the writing but not a single one could. He even promised to cloth the one in scarlet and with a gold chain and make him third ruler. It didn’t matter. Everyone could see the writing on the wall but not one knew what it meant.

 
Belshazzar’s face was probably white as snow. His leaders were just as perplexed. It seems that the queen was the only one with a little understanding as to how to find the answer. I wonder if that was because her heart might have contemplated differently about the gods and things she had seen and learned about Daniel’s God? I don’t know, but of all the advisors she was the only one with the advice that would lead to the answer. “There is a man in your kingdom, in whom is the spirit of the holy gods; and in the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, was found in him; whom the king Nebuchadnezzar your father, the king, I say, your father, made master of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers…”(Daniel 5:11) “ He is alive still and can show you the answer.”Why? Why can Daniel do this?

 
The queen actually lists 6 qualities or evidences of Daniel’s ability. Let’s look at them. The first was an excellent spirit. That didn’t just mean he had a great personality. That word for spirit is the same word, ruach, used for when God breathed His spirit into the first man Adam. This excellent spirit is the spirit of God Himself inside of Daniel that is over and above all spirits. This is the Only Spirit who is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.” (Ephesians 3:20) The Holy Spirit of God Himself imparted wisdom and knowledge from above and of below to Daniel because that’s where Daniel sought his wisdom.

 
This Spirit of God imparted to Daniel that second quality of being able to rightly divine knowledge, wisdom, understanding, intelligence, and reason. I think it corresponds to how we relate our thoughts to the things around us like science and the things we’re conscious of. Maybe this is the practical and scientific application of what we know. And this most intelligent man above all others in the kingdom, retained his intelligence while retaining and promoting his personal belief in God in the midst of all he knew and in the midst of a foreign culture who didn’t know or want to acknowledge his God. Yet that knowledge and application of the inter-relatedness and power of his God in all of men’s affairs, was what led him to the top and brought him before the king of a whole nation as the only one with the answer.

 
When we as speakers of English see the words wisdom and knowledge and understanding, we think on the same terms. But these are different words in Hebrew and Chaldean and retain separate identities of meaning. Daniel had understanding, soklthanu, intelligence and understanding. How is that different? It’s from sekal which means to consider. So maybe truly understanding the writing on the wall around us only comes when we truly consider things God’s way. This is where we sit down and take the time to look at something closely, and set our minds or our eyes to it with attention. But I think this isn’t just looking at things and sitting down with them and thinking closely about them. That could bring us into a multitude of conclusions, each his own. But this is considering, sitting down with God, and thinking with Him, close by His side, and setting our thoughts to Yours, Lord. This is the kind of considering that led Daniel to be able to read the writing on the wall.

 
God gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams. That was evidenced by the time he interpreted King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. But Daniel could also figure out the solutions to hard riddles or enigmas that others could not solve. No matter how concealed by obscure language, Danielle had the ability to figure out the hidden meaning. Proverbs 25:2 tells us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” How do you find out something concealed by God? Do you seek it through false idols? Or do you go to the God who knows the answers? Daniel knew who to go to and God blessed him with the knowledge he sought from Him.

 
The last characteristic is that he could unravel riddles. The root of that is about freeing what has been captured. The King James Version says “dissolving of doubts.” Can you hear that? Some of our thinking and understanding and confusion over answers can cause us to be bound, to be knotted up. They can cause us to feel like Belshazzar. And we can be trapped and bound by those thoughts and feelings, feelings like guilt, pride, fear, insufficiency, worthlessness, superiority, anger, hurt, whatever. Or we can be set free by knowing the One who is the Truth, like Daniel knew Him. After all, Jesus declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19) This was the God of the Old Testament, the Isaiah 61 God, identifying Himself to the world in Jesus. This is the same God that Daniel worshiped and the same God who calls us to worship Him today.

 
So here is this woman, who seems to refer to Daniel more by his Hebrew name than his Chaldean name. And maybe that’s because she realized that Bel or Nebo weren’t gods who saved but Daniel’s God was. And you know, Daniel could care less about the scarlet robe or golden necklace or being third in the kingdom. Daniel just cared about God being made known. And he interpreted the writing. But before that, he reminded Belshazzar about the things he had forgotten or overlooked or chosen to ignore. Because Belshazzar should have remembered and acted upon those memories. Belshazzar should have remembered how all of Nebuchadnezzar’s power was given by the Most High God. He should have remembered what happened when Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was lifted up in pride and his spirit hardened to God, how he lived like a beast all those years until he remembered and knew that God rules the kingdom of man.

 
But Belshazzar was not like the queen. He had disregarded it all and lifted himself up against God. “Mene, mene, tekel, and upharsin.” Therefore, God had numbered his days and brought an end to his kingdom. He was weighed in the balance and found lacking. His kingdom would be divided and given to Medes and Persians just as had been foretold by Daniel according to Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. And that very night, it came to pass. What did the purple robe, gold necklace, and third place in the kingdom mean to Daniel then? Nothing. It’s all emptiness if God isn’t in the heart of it. It was the end of Belshazzar and what a sad, empty end. But it was not the end for Daniel. The new ruler, Darius, noticed something about him and, get this, made him one of the three high officials. Belshazzar’s appointment didn’t matter. But God’s appointment does.

 
I want to be able to read the writing on the wall. I want my life to be totally guided by considering You and Your ways, Lord, all the days of my life. I want people to see something different in me that causes them to seek my two cents, my counsel on things. I don’t want it because they see me, but I want them to see something that leads them to You and to Your council. I want to be like a Daniel in this world today of so many gods. I want to live in Your wisdom, and knowledge, and blessing, and presence, and counsel. If kings won’t act like kings, I will. I’m not afraid to search Your ways and Your answers out, O Lord. So teach me to understand all that You are writing on the walls and floors and sky and people around me.

For three Transgressions and for Four Cont…

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“Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the law of the LORD, and have not kept His statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked.” (Amos 2:4)

It seems that this theme of following lies is rather prevalent throughout the prophets.  Now I’m also thinking, that there must be some things that all men were aware of, some truths that were just self-evident, and part of the nature of being human.  Because it’s not just Judah and Israel being judged for their transgressions.  The Pagan or Gentile nations surrounding them are also being held responsible as though they should have known better and as though they should have known the right way to treat others. 

It’s not like there is uneven playing ground here.  All men are held to the same standard and it must be that somehow all men know intrinsically.  And somehow, all these people got caught up in abundant transgressions, in abundant pesha. This word pesha is about revolt and rebellion.  It’s that kind of sin.  It’s not where someone happens to sin by mistake or without realizing it.  This is full on and deliberate.  When you revolt, when you rebel, there is no question in your mind what you are doing.  You know it and you choose it.

And that choosing happens to be where the Lord is leading today.  Because the Lord also pronounces judgment on Israel and gives a long list of wrongs that they had rebelliously committed.  And after that list of wrongs, You remind them and us what You had done, and how they had corrupted that.  In Amos 2:11 You share, “‘And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites.  Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?’ declares the LORD.”  I was wondering about those sons and young men.  At first I was wondering if the sons were always sons, or sometimes daughters.  And I wondered about the young men, too.  And I found out something interesting about Your plan and expectation and design for men and even women from asking those questions. 

The Hebrew word used for the idea of sons can sometimes mean daughter, but the Hebrew word expressed in this “young men” is bachur.  Now, in Hebrew, the way to make bachur feminine is to add an “ah” to the end.  But You won’t find that used for woman anywhere in the Tanach or Old Testament.  Instead, you find betulah.  It appears that Jewish sages of old posed a question about this.  “What is the essence of being a young man?”  A contemporary rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Lapin answers, “being on the cusp of vital choices.”  He sites Exodus 17:9 as an example, “And Moses said to Joshua choose for us men…”  It’s why men choose wives and careers and ways of serving others.  A bachur is a chooser.

Rabbi Lapin says that’s why most often it’s the man who chooses his wife, not vice versa.  He is the proactive chooser.  And it’s not that she can’t choose.  She also chooses things like careers and ways of serving others and she also chooses her husband but through acceptance or rejection.  As I think about this politically incorrect concept, it makes sense.  The young man is on the cusp on one of the most important decisions of his and her life.  At creation, God set a standard for marriage.  One standard is that it be between a man and a woman.  The other standard is that it be in His image, in the image of a holy and righteous God.  Another standard is that it be in self-sacrificial love.  The man may even actually be in the process of this simple choosing of being tested.  “Will you obey my statutes?  Will you honor me here?  Or will you rebel against the fundamental truth of the nature of the creation of man and woman?”  Here is a story about “a young man on the cusp of choosing a wife and a young woman making decisions that value herself and encourage him to choose wisely.” (Rabbi Daniel Lapin)

If that idea makes you cringe because it seems to give too much power to a man and not enough to a woman, maybe you ought to check yourself and see if you’ve bought into some lies, if you might be guilty of three transgressions or four.  It just doesn’t stop here.  Let’s go back to the beginning, to Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”  That’s zakar for the male and neqevah for the female.  The root of zakar means to be sharp pointed, and the root of neqevah means to pierce.  As a verb though, zakar means to remember.  But in Hebrew, remembering isn’t just cognitive, it means doing what you remember.  You remember and take it to heart.  “[T]his cognitive activity is personal relational activity that results in volitional choice.  It is thinking that becomes doing.” (Skip Moen)  It’s this idea expressed in Psalm 103:18, “To those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.”  Could it be that the man, yes, the man has the first responsibility to to remember who You are and to remember how You are related to mankind?  Is he the one held responsible for remembering who You are and his obligation to You?  You set everything before him. 

In the garden, Eve wasn’t present yet when you commanded the man about eating or not eating of the trees.  Eve wasn’t present when you formed every beast of the dust of the ground.  But Adam was there and I suppose he saw and You brought them to Adam to name which was a way of establishing his authority bestowed by You.  As a matter of fact, Adam was created outside the garden and You placed him there to dress it and keep it.  And even with all that, God knew that Adam was not complete, that Adam could not live up to the task on His own.  Only Adam didn’t see it until he took part in naming all the animals.  But all Adam knew was something was missing.  But You God, knew what was missing.

So you put Adam to sleep and take of his own flesh to make a woman, the partner that Adam needed to know unity like You know.  Flesh of the same flesh.  Bone of the same bone.  We are one!  We are not the same, but we are one!  Now how does man know how to handle that relationship?  He remembers his relationship with You, God, for he became a living soul from your breath, breathed into him.  He remembers how You handed over Your authority to him to keep order over chaos.  He remembers the love You have for him and how You met his innermost needs and he extends all of that to Eve as he remembers and follows suit. 

Is it such a hard thing to want the man to remember who God is, and how he is related to Him, to remember where he came from, who he serves, and whom he depends on?  Is it such a bad thing for him to have been given the responsibility of reminding us?  Is it so bad to think that “man is human in the action of bringing to mind the necessity of obedience to God and doing what is required”? (Skip Moen)    Abraham Heschel says, “to believe is to remember.”  Even the Hebrew word ish used for man in Genesis carries the essence of remembering what God said and doing it.

And isn’t that the problem we keep hearing over and over again?  Isn’t it that the men who should be remembering where they came from and who is over them, have forgotten?  And as they forget, doesn’t their relationship with their wife or their family or their fellow man break down with it?  Isn’t it that the farther man walks from God’s ways and His presence into his own thinking, that the value of others diminishes in his eyes?  Isn’t it that the farther from remembering God that we are, the closer we are to selfishness and the less we think about self-sacrifice for the good of others?

Now, none of this negates the value of Eve or the woman.  God said Adam needed her and it wasn’t good for him to be without her.  But she was God’s gift to keep him in God’s boundaries.  Adam is the rememberer who is to act upon that remembering.  Eve is the boundary keeper, being alert and discerning so that they don’t overstep God’s bounds.  Authority unchecked becomes tyranny.  God knew that.  It doesn’t happen with You God, because You have no selfish motives.  But authority can be a dangerous thing in our hands if someone doesn’t help us keep watching the boundaries of Your will.  This is God designed unity.  This is what fell apart in the garden on that day the tempter came.  Eve believed a lie that she could care for Adam and help him better by greater wisdom.  Adam chose to remember his commitment to Eve more than his commitment to the God who created him.  And we’re still stuck in that rut of thinking today, just as they were in the day of Amos.

It certainly is a far cry from creation.  It certainly looks a lot less human than what was intended.  And maybe that’s the problem.  We’ve created a lie about what humanity should look like and maybe we need to get back to seeing humanity the way You intended it.  “It is indeed conceivable that man may continue to be without being human.  One of the most frightening prospects we must face is that this earth may be populated by a race of beings which though belonging to the race homo sapiens according to biology will be devoid of the qualities by which man is spiritually distinguished from the rest of organic creatures.” (Abraham Heschel, Who is Man?)  Eve chose to believe a lie.  Adam chose to follow another.  How long will we choose to follow our fathers instead of following God?  How long will we choose to believe lies?  How much more rebellion will fill our lives? 

I don’t want to fight against You, Lord.  I want to know the truth and follow it because I know it will set me free.  And it doesn’t just set me free for a day.  It establishes my life in freedom and joy no matter the circumstances around me because in the truth of You, I can finally be fully human and fully who I was created to be.  I guess that’s what I’m looking for.  I just want to search You out until I know who You created me to be.  And being isn’t just about knowing, but about doing.  But I can’t forget that in finding out who I was created to be, You show me who I was not created to be.  And You show me who others were created to be.  So help us each to be who You created us to be in unity with You and each other.  And let us not usurp or misuse or misguide each others true humanness in You.   Let’s repent of our transgressions of being what we weren’t created to be.  Let’s not reject Your order and Your ways and Your heart.  Let’s embrace it and live it out instead.

I Can Taste the Music

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Photo credit to http://www.tastethemusic.co.uk

“…for you have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock…” Amos 6:12

This is awful news.  The destruction of Zion and Samaria is foretold.  People who ought to have known better and taught others better were so wrapped up in themselves they got lost and led others to lose themselves along the way.  They were lost in drunkenness, gluttony, and pride and contempt over others.  National dissolution was on the way, just as it had come to other nations, and will, as they adopt these attitudes as their character.

What is the example of the impending destruction that is used?  A household.  A household of 11 people.  Plague.  Ten die; one survives, and the only survivor isn’t even a near relative, but an uncle.  And when he goes to carry out the burial, the cremation, even the funeral custom is abandoned.  Why?  “…[W]e may not make mention of the name of the LORD.” And I wonder, why is that?  Did the You say not to make mention of Your name?  F.B. Meyer says it’s because of the “stress of such a time,” but I wonder if that is it.  Or is it that men decided they didn’t want to think about and remember You?  I mean, who told them they couldn’t mention Your name?  Or did the remembering just become too painful because they wouldn’t want to blame themselves for the losses they were suffering?  Wouldn’t it be easier to just blame You and walk away from You altogether so no one would have to acknowledge the truth of how they got to where they were?  I don’t know, but it’s a thought.

Isn’t it easier to ignore Your voice, God, than to hear the truth about ourself?  Isn’t it easier to ignore God than to hear that I’m the reason that judgment and righteousness are all screwed up?  It wasn’t You that turned judgment into gall.  You didn’t take that which You established as right and true and good and make it bitter like a poisonous plant to us.  It didn’t start out bitter.  But twisted hearts twisted the taste.

I don’t know who the author of Psalm 119 was but He understood the divine taste of Your ways and Your words.  He understood that in living in and by Your laws and words was a special, unique, safe, and secure, and beautiful relationship with You.  Instead of leading to defilement it led to being undefiled.  It led to being a keeper of Your testimonies and a seeker of You with ones whole being.  It led to one doing righteousness and not sin, and walking like You in real life, every day life.  It led to diligence in remaining in You, in living in that relationship.  It accepted direction from You to do that which was of You.  It was a relationship void of shame and filled with respect and honor and glory for You.  It was a relationship filled with praise for the goodness of Your being that changes my being into one of goodness.  It’s a joy in obeying what is right and what You say and what You do and who You are.  It’s realizing that to do anything else is to wander from Your presence and that relationship. 

Instead of tasting bitter like gall, Your ways and Your words and Your laws and Your statutes were desirable to be hidden in ones heart, to learn from, to declare to others, to rejoice in more than riches, to meditate in, to respect and do, to delight in, and remember.  “I will delight myself in Your statutes: I will not forget Your word.”  In truth, it is a WONDROUS thing.  It is separate and distinguished.  It is great, sometimes difficult for “mere men” to grasp, yet continually wonderful.  Yes, it’s hard, and hidden, and high, and marvelous, and miraculous, but all the more gloriously tasteful to search out.

But everyone is given free will.  And each of us has the freedom to decide what we will do with You in our lives.  We can choose to see You as the Psalmist experienced You by imbibing You, or we can choose to see You as the people in Amos’ day, and rebel and find delight in other fleeting things.  I can choose to twist Your will and leave it all together and follow my own.  I can choose to despise and treat as poison that which You have established as giving life and well-being and choose my own temporary pleasure and idea of right and wrong.  Not only can I turn judgment, Your establishment of how to live life to the fullest in You and in a world of others, but I can turn the fruit of righteousness into hemlock or wormwood, another poison and accursed thing. 

I love that word, tsedaqah.  It’s Hebrew and it has to do with all the right things and good things and loving-ness that flows from God.  It’s rightness and justice and virtue and strength and prosperity and goodness in action and thinking and love shown Your way.  But look at how corrupt man’s thinking can become, that it would see that and experience that as poisonous and accursed.

Instead of asking, “Dear God, how did I come to this point of forsaking You?”, we point our fingers at You and accuse, “Why, God, have You forsaken us?”  Is it any wonder that You don’t answer our prayers when we don’t even acknowledge You until a tragedy arises?  Is it any wonder that we don’t sense You when we don’t even give You the time of day?  Is it any wonder that we have no feelings for You and can’t sense Your feelings for us when we reject anything about You.  Yet here we are, living in Your world You created for us, under Your heaven beneath which You shelter us, becoming drunk on Your wine that You provide, and gaining weight on the provision of Your food, and living in the comfort of homes that You created the materials for building.  And we think, “Who are You that we should stop to remember You?  Have we not taken to us power by our own strength?  Have I not made myself the master of my own destiny?”  Well, you are the master of your own destiny if your destiny is outside of the presence of God.  But I hate to tell you, because you’re not going to like this, that He was the one who created even that destiny in the first place, and it wasn’t intended for You.

Why would You, Lord, not be at home around us?  Why would You seem to forsake people?  Could it be as Hershel thought that You are, “not at home in a universe where [Your] will is defied and where [Your] kingship is denied.  God is in exile; the world is corrupt.  The universe itself is not at home.”  If we want to not be forsaken, we need to stop being forsakers.  I can absolutely refuse Your supremacy in my life, everything I desire can trump Your desires, but in so doing, I choose to live in a strange universe and not one as it was created to be.  It’s as though I fight against it by my irresponsiveness.  After all, You tell me outright what is required to restore everything as it was and is in heaven.  Why doesn’t it happen?  Because I refuse to remember and live by Your name and Your character and Your ways.  I won’t listen.  I throw out Your word with the baby’s bath water.  Even though, in truth, my life now and into eternity depends upon it, I treat it as “ethnically dependent, culturally irrelevant, theologically unnecessary,” archaic, ridiculous, narrow-minded, un-educated, confining.”  But who really is the foolish one?

The truth is that horses don’t run over rocky summits.  Oxen don’t go plowing in rock.  For some reason we keep choosing to do things the hard and unnatural way.  It happened before Amos’ day, it happened in Amos’ day, it happened after Amos’ day in Saul’s day.  Saul, who became known as Paul, recounts his encounter with Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you have been persecuting: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts  9:5)  Here’s an interesting thing about bringing up these words today.  That word for pricks is kentron in Hebrew.  It’s a prick or a point like a sting or goad, like those used to prod cattle.  But that sting part can figuratively mean poison and the goad part figuratively refer to divine impulse.  Now think about that.  Saul was treating the divine impulse as poison.  Jesus wasn’t only warning Paul and revealing truth to him, He was warning us and revealing truth to us.  It’s a dry and empty place filled with harshness and severity to be in that place of treating You and Your impulses and prodding as poison, but it’s a place some of us take ourselves into.  And then the problem is we can’t find our way out.  We wind up trapped there. 

Is there hope?  Yes!  When God prods us we can listen and respond in trembling and astonishment like Saul.  We can turn from our self-conceit and humble ourselves again before our Creator and our God and ask in submission, “Lord, what will You have me do?”  And then we can turn our hearts to listen and obey and love all that is of You and live in Your strength all the days of our lives.  I won’t have to feel the sharp goading because I will be walking with You of my own accord.  I will know Your will and do it.  I will delight in Your will and rejoice in it.  You will be my delight and as I delight in You, I will know and experience Your delight in me that You have always wanted to share with me but I would have none of it before. 

Maybe there are some things we have chosen to forget and we need to remember again.  Maybe there are some false ideas we’ve believed and we need to let go of them.  Maybe there are some old songs we’ve been singing and we need to learn a new song like in Revelation 5:9,10, “And they sung a new song, saying, ‘You are worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and have made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.’”  Well, we can choose to sing this new song in our hearts or we can choose to keep singing our own song.  But the day will come when one song will be true, one song alone will be sung throughout eternity, and it won’t be yours unless it was His first.  I want to sing Your song, a song of my gratefulness to all that You are and all that You have been and all that You will be forever.  You are worthy, not me.  You brought everything into being and have the right to direct my path because everywhere I walk, You made, it’s Yours.  Be my song and may Your music shine forth from me.  No matter what happens in life around me, may I remember You and glorify Your name Your way.

“This Isn’t Who I Created You to Be”

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“Thus says the LORD: ‘For three transgressions of Judah, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have rejected the law of the LORD, and have not kept His statutes, but their lies have led them astray, those after which their fathers walked.” (Amos 2:4)

It seems that this theme of following lies is rather prevalent throughout the prophets.  Now I’m also thinking, that there must be some things that all men were aware of, some truths that were just self-evident, and part of the nature of being human.  Because it’s not just Judah and Israel being judged for their transgressions.  The Pagan or Gentile nations surrounding them are also being held responsible as though they should have known better and as though they should have known the right way to treat others. 

It’s not like there is uneven playing ground here.  All men are held to the same standard and it must be that somehow all men know intrinsically.  And somehow, all these people got caught up in abundant transgressions, in abundant pesha. This word pesha is about revolt and rebellion.  It’s that kind of sin.  It’s not where someone happens to sin by mistake or without realizing it.  This is full on and deliberate.  When you revolt, when you rebel, there is no question in your mind what you are doing.  You know it and you choose it.

And that choosing happens to be where the Lord is leading today.  Because the Lord also pronounces judgment on Israel and gives a long list of wrongs that they had rebelliously committed.  And after that list of wrongs, You remind them and us what You had done, and how they had corrupted that.  In Amos 2:11 You share, “‘And I raised up some of your sons for prophets, and some of your young men for Nazirites.  Is it not indeed so, O people of Israel?’ declares the LORD.”  I was wondering about those sons and young men.  At first I was wondering if the sons were always sons, or sometimes daughters.  And I wondered about the young men, too.  And I found out something interesting about Your plan and expectation and design for men and even women from asking those questions. 

The Hebrew word used for the idea of sons can sometimes mean daughter, but the Hebrew word expressed in this “young men” is bachur.  Now, in Hebrew, the way to make bachur feminine is to add an “ah” to the end.  But You won’t find that used for woman anywhere in the Tanach or Old Testament.  Instead, you find betulah.  It appears that Jewish sages of old posed a question about this.  “What is the essence of being a young man?”  A contemporary rabbi, Rabbi Daniel Lapin answers, “being on the cusp of vital choices.”  He sites Exodus 17:9 as an example, “And Moses said to Joshua choose for us men…”  It’s why men choose wives and careers and ways of serving others.  A bachur is a chooser.

Rabbi Lapin says that’s why most often it’s the man who chooses his wife, not vice versa.  He is the proactive chooser.  And it’s not that she can’t choose.  She also chooses things like careers and ways of serving others and she also chooses her husband through her acceptance or rejection.  As I think about this politically incorrect concept, it makes sense.  The young man is on the cusp on one of the most important decisions of his and her life.  At creation, God set a standard for marriage.  One standard is that it be between a man and a woman.  The other standard is that it be in His image, in the image of a holy and righteous God.  Another standard is that it be in self-sacrificial love.  The man may even actually be in the process of this simple choosing of being tested.  “Will you obey my statutes?  Will you honor me here?  Or will you rebel against the fundamental truth of the nature of the creation of man and woman?”  Here is a story about “a young man on the cusp of choosing a wife and a young woman making decisions that value herself and encourage him to choose wisely.” (Rabbi Daniel Lapin)

If that idea makes you cringe because it seems to give too much power to a man and not enough to a woman, maybe you ought to check yourself and see if you’ve bought into some lies, if you might be guilty of three transgressions or four.  It just doesn’t stop here.  Let’s go back to the beginning, to Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.”  That’s zakar for the male and neqevah for the female.  The root of zakar means to be sharp pointed, and the root of neqevah means to pierce.  As a verb though, zakar means to remember.  But in Hebrew, remembering isn’t just cognitive, it means doing what you remember.  You remember and take it to heart.  “[T]his cognitive activity is personal relational activity that results in volitional choice.  It is thinking that becomes doing.” (Skip Moen)  It’s this idea expressed in Psalm 103:18, “To those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.”  Could it be that the man, yes, the man has the first responsibility to to remember who You are and to remember how You are related to mankind?  Is he the one held responsible for remembering who You are and his obligation to You?  You set everything before him. 

In the garden, Eve wasn’t present yet when you commanded the man about eating or not eating of the trees.  Eve wasn’t present when you formed every beast of the dust of the ground.  But Adam was there and I suppose he saw and You brought them to Adam to name which was a way of establishing his authority bestowed by You.  As a matter of fact, Adam was created outside the garden and You placed him there to dress it and keep it.  And even with all that, God knew that Adam was not complete, that Adam could not live up to the task on His own.  Only Adam didn’t see it until he took part in naming all the animals.  But all Adam knew was something was missing.  But You God, knew what was missing.

So you put Adam to sleep and take of his own flesh to make a woman, the partner that Adam needed to know unity like You know.  Flesh of the same flesh.  Bone of the same bone.  We are one!  We are not the same, but we are one!  Now how does man know how to handle that relationship?  He remembers his relationship with You, God, for he became a living soul from your breath, breathed into him.  He remembers how You handed over Your authority to him to keep order over chaos.  He remembers the love You have for him and how You met his innermost needs and he extends all of that to Eve as he remembers and follows suit. 

Is it such a hard thing to want the man to remember who God is, and how he is related to Him, to remember where he came from, who he serves, and whom he depends on?  Is it such a bad thing for him to have been given the responsibility of reminding us?  Is it so bad to think that “man is human in the action of bringing to mind the necessity of obedience to God and doing what is required”? (Skip Moen)    Abraham Heschel says, “to believe is to remember.”  Even the Hebrew word ish used for man in Genesis carries the essence of remembering what God said and doing it.

And isn’t that the problem we keep hearing over and over again?  Isn’t it that the men who should be remembering where they came from and who is over them, have forgotten?  And as they forget, doesn’t their relationship with their wife or their family or their fellow man break down with it?  Isn’t it that the farther man walks from God’s ways and His presence into his own thinking, that the value of others diminishes in his eyes?  Isn’t it that the farther from remembering God that we are, the closer we are to selfishness and the less we think about self-sacrifice for the good of others?

Now, none of this negates the value of Eve or the woman.  God said Adam needed her and it wasn’t good for him to be without her.  But she was God’s gift to keep him in God’s boundaries.  Adam is the rememberer who is to act upon that remembering.  Eve is the boundary keeper, being alert and discerning so that they don’t overstep God’s bounds.  Authority unchecked becomes tyranny.  God knew that.  It doesn’t happen with You God, because You have no selfish motives.  But authority can be a dangerous thing in our hands if someone doesn’t help us keep watching the boundaries of Your will.  This is God designed unity.  This is what fell apart in the garden on that day the tempter came.  Eve believed a lie that she could care for Adam and help him better by greater wisdom.  Adam chose to remember his commitment to Eve more than his commitment to the God who created him.  And we’re still stuck in that rut of thinking today, just as they were in the day of Amos.

It certainly is a far cry from creation.  It certainly looks a lot less human than what was intended.  And maybe that’s the problem.  We’ve created a lie about what humanity should look like and maybe we need to get back to seeing humanity the way You intended it.  “It is indeed conceivable that man may continue to be without being human.  One of the most frightening prospects we must face is that this earth may be populated by a race of beings which though belonging to the race homo sapiens according to biology will be devoid of the qualities by which man is spiritually distinguished from the rest of organic creatures.” (Abraham Heschel, Who is Man?)  Eve chose to believe a lie.  Adam chose to follow another.  How long will we choose to follow our fathers instead of following God?  How long will we choose to believe lies?  How much more rebellion will fill our lives? 

I don’t want to fight against You, Lord.  I want to know the truth and follow it because I know it will set me free.  And it doesn’t just set me free for a day.  It establishes my life in freedom and joy no matter the circumstances around me because in the truth of You, I can finally be fully human and fully who I was created to be.  I guess that’s what I’m looking for.  I just want to search You out until I know who You created me to be.  And being isn’t just about knowing, but about doing.  But I can’t forget that in finding out who I was created to be, You show me who I was not created to be.  And You show me who others were created to be.  So help us each to be who You created us to be in unity with You and each other.  And let us not usurp or misuse or misguide each others true humanness in You.   Let’s repent of our transgressions of being what we weren’t created to be.  Let’s not reject Your order and Your ways and Your heart.  Let’s embrace it and live it out instead.

A No-Brainer

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Photo credit to Doug Gochenour.

“Woe to her who is rebellious and defiled, the oppressing city!  She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction.  She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God.”  (Zephaniah 3:1-2)

Zephaniah was known as the “fiercest of prophets.”  Imagine hearing him make these declarations before you.  Read all of his words, given by God, in Scripture.  He held nothing back.  But it seems that there was a reason for Zephaniah holding nothing back.  That “oppressing city” and its people were holding nothing back either.  It seems as though they were holding nothing back from themselves and it was causing havoc.

Who was that oppressing city?  It was Judah and Jerusalem.  What was her problem?  She was rebellious and defiled. That was the root of the problem. What does it mean to be rebellious?  Well, Noah Webster, back in 1828, defined a rebel as “One who revolts from the government to which he owes allegiance, either by openly renouncing the authority of that government, or by taking arms and openly opposing it. A rebel differs from an enemy, as the latter is one who does not owe allegiance to the government which he attacks.”  Jerusalem existed because God created her.  He called Abram out of Ur and made Himself a people, a nation.  But this nation named Israel, first through the tribes of Israel and then through the tribes of Judah abandoned the God who created them.  They were God’s people who had turned against the God who had formed them.

Zephaniah tells of the heart of the people that is bringing God’s judgment on them.  They were disobedient, unresponsive to God, unbelieving, and impenitent.  Their leaders and judges were greedy for self gain, not righteousness.   Those who were supposed to be prophets didn’t take it seriously and they were treacherous and served lies.  The priests violated the sacrifices.  They all acted as though God was not there, as though You would not act, as though they were in control.  Yet, there You were the whole time. 

Oh, yeah, bad Israel, bad Judah, right?  How foolish can they be?  But what about the application to us in the rest of the world?  Do I resemble this kind of thinking before You, God?  Because the message doesn’t just talk about Judah and Jerusalem.  Zephaniah tells of the destruction of the wicked Gentiles.  Why?  I’m pretty sure since we all started out from the same roots in the garden that all men really have the same opportunity to know the God who created them, who formed them.  And we, just like Jerusalem will be held responsible for our own rebellion against You.  And the good news is that You have a heart to convert many in those remaining nations because You formed them too.  And the good news for Israel is that You have a heart to restore them.  More good news is that Christ will be returning and there will be even greater rejoicing! God will be in our midst.   He will gather those who mourn for what lacks in Him, He will deal with our oppressors, He will save the lame and gather the outcast and bring us in and gather us together in Him.

But let’s go back to the bad news.  “She listens to no voice; she accepts no correction.  She does not trust in the Lord; she does not draw near to her God.”  It’s not about listening to just any voice.  It’s not even about listening to her voice.  It’s all about listening to God’s voice.  And listening, Hebraicly, meant acting upon that listening.  That’s the point here.  She doesn’t listen and when she doesn’t act on that correction, it shows she isn’t acting upon that listening.  And why do You correct us?  I mean who likes correction?   Even Paul said, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”    Now isn’t it interesting the in Zephaniah, God makes reference to healing the lame?  And here, Paul continues the thought about discipline by saying, “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12,13)  Being able to submit to correction brings healing.  A refusal to be corrected by God brings further disjointedness and pain and suffering, not only for ourselves, but for those under our influence.

Why wouldn’t we accept correction?  Why wouldn’t we listen to Your voice, God?  Because we don’t trust You.  We trust our own way.  We ask the questions for the answers we want to receive and we avoid asking the questions that might reveal the truth.  Or, we ask questions and don’t stop to listen to the answers.  Or we ask questions without really meaning to ever listen to an answer.  Our answer is already sufficient in our own minds.  We would rather choose to believe lies and falsehoods because we like the idea of the response we can have.  We can feed our feelings, our egos, our pockets, our lusts, and write everything else off because we can have what we want the way we want, or so we think. 

Well, that’s true.  I can choose to have what I want.  I can choose to be a rebel against the God who formed me, just like Israel.  I can choose to design my own reality and my own truth or lack thereof.  I can live by it.  But then too, I shall die by it.  I shall die in the emptiness of that “reality” when all along, there was a True Reality, the I AM, the Ever Existent One, who would have taken me under His wings and brought me into His wonderful presence into eternity through Jesus Christ, but I wanted my own way, my own choice, my own voice, more.  What a tragedy!  You know what?  Rebellion is not worth it.  It’s not as great as everyone in the world makes it out to be.  It’s lonely and painful and empty and eternal.

I’ve thought about eternity a long time ago.  Like, what would make me good enough that God would accept me into His eternal glory?  And I realized that there is nothing in me that is that wonderful and that good.  But I listened to Him.  And He reminded me of Jesus and how He, as God and man, offered Himself in my place to fulfill the glory and righteousness of God and make a way for rebellious men and women to return to Him.  So, accept my correction, because Christ accepted my punishment for me and for you.  I trust in Him because He gave His life for me who didn’t deserve it.  I’ll draw near to Him because He drew near to me when I was still rebellious.  He deserves my allegiance.  I don’t deserve Him.  But He gave Himself for me.

I don’t care if you are black or white or brown or pink or gay or straight or whatever or whoever.  Not listening to God’s voice, which we can verify from spending time in His word, leads to woe for any of us.  Sure, you can rebel and choose to live your own way, whatever that is, but be ready for your lameness to get worse.  If you want healing, listen to the One who can bring it.  Pledge your allegiance to Him with Your whole life and all your attitudes and all your actions and all your thoughts.  Why?  Because when  He exults over You, His precious treasure, with loud singing, you don’t want to miss it.  It’s our choice.  I can choose screaming and gnashing of teeth, or I can choose rejoicing and gladness forevermore.  To me it’s a no-brainer but maybe that’s the problem, we’re not really using our brains fully and examining all the evidence.