On Suffering

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“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be God’s will, than for doing evil.”  1 Peter 3:17

Who likes suffering for any reason?  Not me.  But did you stop to think that suffering can be a part of God’s will?  Lord, You could be the author of suffering in my life?  Think about that.  Selah.

Peter didn’t make a mistake here.  He says it again in 1 Peter 4:19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”  So there is a suffering in accord with God’s will and a suffering out of accord with God’s will.  What does that mean?  Well, Peter said, “it’s better to suffer for doing good, if that be God’s will, than for doing evil.”  If I’m walking according to God’s will, and my life is exhibiting the goodness of His life in me, God may very well, and most probably will see fit to direct me through experiences that I would consider as suffering, in order to more deeply refine me.  It’s not because You don’t care, Lord, it’s not because You have forsaken me; it’s because You love me and know my full potential.  It’s for my benefit.  After all, I’m not above my master, who suffered.  I’m not exempt from the treatment that was chosen for the master.  As Jesus entrusted his soul, his whole being, to God’s will, so should I.  Do I believe that God is my faithful Creator in every circumstance?  Jesus did.

But what if I find myself a murderer or a thief, or a gossiper or backbiter, or trusting in drugs or alcohol, or living in lust or outside the will of God some other way?  God, even when I am unfaithful, even when I will not admit His faithfulness, is still our faithful Creator.  It’s not His will that I remain in that “evil” state.  It is Your will for me to go through suffering that I might wake up like the prodigal and come to You.  That’s the compassion of God for me.

We so readily want to curse You, Lord for allowing suffering into our lives.  Suffering is painful.  It is.  Suffering seems so evil.  It doesn’t seem like it should have anything to do with You.  “Hey, Guys, I want you to meet my God, the one who brings affliction and pain into my life on purpose.”  What?  But it’s like this, it’s not that my choice to follow You brings on these painful events and circumstances.  Because I’m following You, these painful experiences are imposed from the outside.  I need to know that “abuse, threats, rejection and even physical harm” may be imposed from outside because of my stand in and with You.  Yeah, it’s emotional.  Yeah, it hurts bad.  But this is my school grounds.  This is where You teach me endurance like that of Christ.  This is where You refine me.  This is where You melt away the dross and what’s left is that which aligns with You.  This is where I find peace in Christ, joy in the Lord, true fellowship , real love of the brethren and You.  This is where my emotions are refined and Your will becomes my will because I start to see things through Your perspective.

But I can choose to deny Your sovereignty over these circumstances of my life.  I can loose every benefit of the good You have planned for me in suffering.  I could even deny Your hand in my life, call You unfaithful, and turn away.  I can turn to evil, since I’m going to suffer anyway, right?  Only, fighting You, bucking at the pricks, just sours me more and I wind up pushing myself away from what You designed as the way to draw me closer.  Like a horse guided by its own fear, I strike out at the one who knows what I was created to be and who could take me there, and I run, never changing, never attaining my full potential.

Well, Lord, I have to admit that sometimes I really buck at You.  When my heart hurts, I don’t like it.  Sometimes I choose to have a pity party instead of letting You refine me.  Instead of submitting and understanding what You are enabling in my life, I dig my feet in and fight.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t want to miss out on what You want to do in my life.  I don’t want to miss out on growing in endurance.  I don’t want to miss out on growing in patience and love and aligning with You, seeing things the way You do, and responding like You . I don’t want just my thoughts aligned with You.  I want my actions and feelings aligned with You as well.  Otherwise, what I say I believe and what my life shows I believe, won’t be saying the same thing.  I want to be the real deal, like You, even if that means suffering at Your hands.  It’s better to suffer in the hands of a loving God than under anyone else’s hands.

David was a person like us.  Sometimes he suffered for doing God’s will, for just being His.  And sometimes David did what was evil in the sight of God and suffered at God’s hand for that choice.  David realized his two choices and the sovereignty of God for both.  And one time, for disobeying God in counting the army of Israel, the Lord was bringing judgment upon the people.  God gave David three choices of punishment:  three years of famine, flee three months before your foes, or three days of pestilence in the land.  David was distressed.  Suffering for any reason doesn’t feel good.  But he got it.  “I am in great distress.  Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.”  The Lord sent the pestilence. 

Why did David and the people need to suffer?  He was the one who ordered the counting.  I wonder if we forget that what seems like a little sin, leads to massive, dire consequences for those around us and ourselves.  Maybe we all need suffering to wake us up to the truth.  What I choose matters.  Who I choose to follow won’t only lead me to life or destruction, but countless others.  That being the case, Lord, You are tremendously merciful to us as You walk us through suffering so we can understand.

 

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To Untwisted Humility

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Photo credit to bibleplaces.com

 

“Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude: ‘Whom are you like in your greatness?’” Ezekiel 31:2

 
Maybe that’s a question we all ought to ask ourselves. “Who am I like in my ‘greatness’?” First of all, who am I comparing myself to? Am I really comparing myself to Greatness itself? Who am I lining myself up with? Do I think more of myself than I ought?
Maybe Pharaoh should have thought more about who he was comparing his greatness to. I mean, it wasn’t like he wasn’t great. Egypt had been a world power and then had been subjugated by Assyria but had made a comeback. Smaller nations looked to them as great again. The Expositor’s Bible says that verse 3, where it tells about the Assyrian, should be translated as “T’asshur,” which is the name of the sherbin tree, which was a cedar in Lebanon that was unrivaled among the other stately forest trees.

 
Egypt was like that great tree. But how did he get like that great tree? How did he get to be so great like this cedar in the garden of God that the others “could not hide him: the fir trees were not like his bough, and the chestnut trees were not like his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty”? Was he so great and beautiful for himself? If so, why is the picture of God’s garden? Was everything in God’s garden created for it’s own esoteric majesty? Or was it created from and for the majesty of something greater?

 
Who made Egypt great? Who made the greatness of the cedar? “I have made him fair by the multitude of his branches: so that all the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of God, envied him.” Who said that? God. God had made him, Egypt, so great that others noticed and envied his greatness. God did it. God made Egypt great because all greatness comes from God. Without God there is no greatness.

 
What happened to Egypt. “Therefore thus says the Lord God; ‘Because you have lifted up yourself in height, and he has shot up his top among the thick boughs, and his heart is lifted up in his height; I have therefore delivered him into the hand of the mighty one of the heathen; he shall surely deal with him: I have driven him out for his wickedness.’” What was the wickedness? It was puffing up his own greatness and forgetting where all good things and therefore all great things come from.

 
Let me think about that. “His heart is lifted up in his height.” His heart. That’s not just about his emotions. That’s about his mind, will, and emotions. It’s the part that drives the way I think and the actions I take. It’s the me of me. Only here it’s the me not as I was created to be, but the me that I desire to make myself to be. It’s the me that I lift up, that I raise. It’s when I exalt myself, my ways, my will, my emotions above God’s. It’s a haughtiness and pride. It’s presumptuousness and pride. It’s setting myself up. Actually, Strong’s Concordance says the word ruym even means to breed worms. Yep, I think when this is my philosophy of life, as it was for Pharaoh, it’s truly creating a can of worms. And when you think about it, being a worm isn’t something to be proud of.

 
When David cries out, in words that expressed his heart and humbleness before God, in words that also spoke prophetically from the heart of the Messiah, we hear, “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” Here’s David, king of Israel, a worm? It’s a different word than ruym. It’s tola, and a more of a maggoty type of worm used to dye clothes scarlet. Think about that. Did David see himself as something great in himself? Obviously not at this moment. Shortly after this in Psalm 22:8 he continues, “He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver him: let Him deliver him, seeing He delighted in him.” God was his establisher and rescuer. And what of Jesus? I mean, come on, Jesus was the Son of God. You can’t get much higher than that? How did Jesus’ heart handle that knowledge? How did He handle that pat on the back, that commendation?

 
Let’s look at that question. How can I look at how Jesus, the Son of God, the Top Dog of top dogs, handled His authority and His power? How can I be put into a proper perspective of my own life from His? Paul thought about this. He shared his thinking with others. He lived by this thinking, this understanding and fellowship with Christ in God. As a matter of fact, he calls it encouragement in Christ. He calls it encouragement in Christ that gives comfort from love and that is all about participation with the Holy Spirit, affection and sympathy, completeness of joy, unity of mind and love. It’s devoid of selfish ambition or conceit. Wow, that’s just the opposite of Pharaoh’s problem, isn’t it? It counts others as worth more than myself and lifts their significance above mine, which must mean that I’m thinking about God’s significance more than mine.

 
It’s not like I don’t have concerns for myself. I still need food and shelter and love and other things. But it’s not just about me when I look through God’s perspective. I’m not alone. There’s this world with others in it affected just like me, with needs just like me, and maybe even greater. It’s bigger than me and better than me and interrelated with others. But it’s not just about us either. This whole encouragement is that it’s all wrapped up in God. And I can’t get the true gist of life without understanding how to look at it and understand it through the mind of Jesus Christ. If I don’t think like Him about it, my whole view of myself and others and the world and God will be distorted. So how did Jesus think about it?

 
Jesus, who was God, didn’t stop to think about whom He was like in greatness. Jesus kept His eyes on the greatness of God. His whole desire was to make much of God. And that is so fascinating. Why? Because He was God!  Here He was in the form of God, only He didn’t cling like glue to that as His claim to fame. His equality wasn’t what floated His boat. You know what He valued? God. He humbled Himself and emptied Himself. He lowered Himself to take on the form of a servant, of a man. Imagine that!  Jesus, God in human form, lowered Himself to come through the birth canal of a woman! That’s pretty inglorious and undignified if you ask me, I mean for the God of the universe? It’s an amazing process for us, after all, we’re worms, but God?

 
So here Jesus was, with us humans looking on, and counting Him, you know, God, as one of us. And we didn’t even realize the wonder of it all, the majesty of who was walking with us. But instead of being angry at us, instead of retaliating in His pride, He humbled Himself and became obedient to God the Father unto death, even that terrible death on the cross. Where was His pride? Where was His authority? Where was His heart? Obviously, not lifted up in Himself but lifted up in His Heavenly Father and lifting us up to Him.

 
So what does God, the Heavenly Father do? He highly exalts Him. He lifts Jesus up and makes Him the Height of heights. He makes Jesus the tallest tree, to which all else bows, whether of earth or of heaven. This is the attitude of the Lord. This is the attitude of the true King. This is the heart that God exalts, one who understands and lives in the humility of knowing Who we really belong to and Who is really sovereign.

 
I don’t work in me to make myself anything of eternal value. Oh, I could raise myself in the status of this world, but it won’t give me status in God’s eyes. Only God can do that and I can only get there through submission and humility to Him. And if I am truly learning to be humble before my God, then my life will demonstrate humility before others. Pharaoh should have worked out his own salvation with fear and trembling, meditating on the God who delivered the Israelites in such a powerful way. But he, like many of us, ignored the truth, and was too busy working things out his own way, in his own strength.

 

We still live in a crooked and twisted generation, but today is the day that we can untwist and get back to what we were created for. Today is the day that I can be a light shining in a twisted world to show it how to untwist. Today is the day that I can uncorrupt my thinking and my living and humble myself before my Maker and follow Christ into the heart of God. And I can be a part of leading others to His heart and out of corruption. Why? Because it’s not about me. “For it is God which works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) I’m God’s workmanship, not my own. I’ve got nothing to boast in outside of Him. I wouldn’t even be here without Him. My prayer is that my heart- my mind, my will, and my emotions- would be conformed to Your heart. May You be exalted in my life and may my life boast of You before the world. May Your greatness be my glory.

On Mixing and Mingling

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“…and all the mingled people…” (Ezekiel 30:5)

 
Well, I’m not focussing on a whole verse today but this phrase, “and all the mingled people.” It just jumps out at me. What’s the context? Egypt is about to be humbled by God in judgment but it’s not just effecting Egypt. It’s going to effect Ethiopia, Libya, Lydia, all the mingled people, and Chub, and all the others who are in league with Egypt. And I wonder if the mingled people are just one specific group of people or if all these people aren’t mingled in a sense?

 
Ereb is the Hebrew word for mingled people here. It’s used for the web or transverse threads of cloth, or a mixture, or a mongrel race. I think Arabia is used as an example. That makes sense since during the Exodus, there was a “mixed multitude” that joined the Jews. Again, we hear in Nehemiah how the people of Israel read the book of Moses after so long neglect, and found that the Ammonite and Moabite were banned from the congregation of God for ever. When they heard the law, they separated the “mixed multitude” from themselves. Jeremiah talks of the “mingled people” having to drink from the cup of the Lord’s fury.

 
I wonder if this idea of being a mingler really matters? I’m thinking that if God mentions it, it does matter, and that it matters significantly. But I also think that this idea of mingled things is something that we brush off. If I jump back to Leviticus and Deuteronomy, I see that You introduced this concept to Your people. You thought it was significant enough to instruct them on. You introduced kilayim and shaatnez. And though they seem inconsequential to us, they aren’t for You.

 
First You say, “You shall not sow your vineyard with divers seeds [kilayim]: lest the fruit of your seed which you have sown, and the fruit of your vineyard, be defiled.” (Deuteronomy 22:9) Kilayim is a forbidden mixture. What makes it forbidden? God says so. Do the two seeds explode when planted together? No. Will poison gas be given off? No. Will I not understand something of God if I don’t take His words at face value? Yes. Does listening, and trusting, and obeying have to do with honoring the absolute dignity and divinity of God? Yes. Does it matter if I trust You unconditionally in the “little seeming” things I don’t understand? Yes. Because if I can’t understand in one little thing I don’t get , how will I understand in all the other things I don’t agree with or can’t see or don’t feel like? And when did I become the one who knew better? When did my honor and dignity become more valuable than Yours?  When did I become omniscient?

 
“There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:30) God, You set up for us prohibitions. And I’m pretty sure that they are there for our good and for our understanding. Proverbs 21:30 tells me and all of us that You alone know best. Nothing tops Your wisdom, or understanding, or counsel. You are such a good teacher that You get us to utilize all our senses for greater understanding. You give us this visual picture or representation, like in parables or real life. You give us things that touch our real lives. You warn us against disregarding but You allow us the freedom to experience the consequences. But the truth is, it’s not always about understanding why. Why can’t I? It really doesn’t matter. Because the real question that You are asking is, “When I tell you something, who am I to you? Because, Child, the way you treat my words shows me who I am in your heart.”

 
Some of these commands of our God truly defy “full comprehension.” And maybe so because it’s not a matter of our comprehending You, but a matter of our knowing You and honoring You for who You are. Let’s face it, some mixtures are just dangerous. I found that out one time when I mixed some water in to some dry chlorine. It sounded like gunshots and even out in the open air, the toxic fumes invaded my lungs to the point I had trouble breathing. What about nitro and glycerin? Or drinking and driving? Oh I get those. But what about if God says don’t mix milk and meat, or wool and linen? Does that not matter because it doesn’t make sense to me? What if it doesn’t have to make sense to me? What if God just wants to know if I’ll honor Him no matter the littleness or bigness of the request? Isn’t it interesting that it might be so much easier to leave for a foreign country than it would be to not eat milk and meat mixed together?
The image of a donkey and ox working together and how that isn’t best for both is easy to see. So we can agree with that one.

 

Maybe that’s why You introduced that one first, to show that this stuff isn’t really hard to honor. But it was never meant just for a physical understanding. Your way has spiritual implications too. That’s why Paul related this in a more personal way for us humans in 2 Corinthians 6. “Don’t be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he that believes with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make My dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them,’ says the Lord, ‘and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty.”

 
You mean that when I understand how to separate between my way and Your way and choose Your way, then I understand about choosing a relationship with You? Then I start experiencing Your presence as my heavenly Father? Then I get to experience You acting in my life, for my benefit? Weren’t You always? Oh, but I wouldn’t acknowledge it and you don’t experience what you won’t accept and acknowledge even when it’s right there for you.

 
So I can be like a donkey and an ox. I can choose disunity and dishonor by choosing my own way. You never really sit on the fence. That’s a farce. I’m either a donkey or an ox. Or an ox or a donkey. Depending on the moment. What are You asking me to be? That’s what I ought to be. And I ought to join in with others that are obeying the same goal You’ve given so as not to be distracted or hindered or distract or hinder others. Maybe if Cain was a little more pliable to Your way, his donkeyness wouldn’t have mattered more than Able’s oxenness, or maybe it was that his oxenness wouldn’t have mattered more than Able’s donkeyness. Maybe we can overate our own individuality, especially when it trumps God’s honor and uniqueness and rightness and sovereignty.  I mean, let me face reality here. Like I think my character is something to boast on? Neither Cain nor Able could boast on their own characters. We’re all flawed. We’re all a mix of good and bad. Therefore, we have to be aware. Therefore, we have to let God take care of our dangerous mixes because He alone is not flawed. He isn’t mixed. He alone can instruct on purity. He alone can unmix us.

 
But I digressed from those diverse seeds and the fruit that comes from them. What if God was saying, “Look, I’m going to use these examples in nature because I want You to first, and foremost understand the spiritual dimension between us. Don’t focus on just the physical. Get what I’m trying to show you.” God is pure. He is unmixed, undefiled. He is purely God. He purifies us and produces pure fruit in us. Somehow we are His fruits and we produce more fruit. But it only comes from His seed, not mixed seeds. It’s not some of me and some of Him. It’s all of Him. And of course, that’s something we’re all learning, to let God plant and produce all of His seed in us and to realize that ours just spoils the vineyard.

 
Jesus spoke on this. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in Me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:1-10)

 
I guess the truth is that I can’t really love God if I don’t honor Him. God is God, that’s all there is to it. I can treat You like You are God, or I can decide when I want to treat You like God, but that doesn’t change the fact that You are still God and You are still right no matter what I think or feel. It just means that I’ve decided to dishonor You and to demonstrate that I don’t love You as much as I say I do. If “the honor of God overrides all human concerns, even that of human dignity,” (Hershey H. Friedman) then when did my dignity come to outweigh God’s honor? Why would I think that God didn’t know what He was talking about? Why would I think that I could understand everything when God declares, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8) And why aren’t our thoughts equal and of equal value? “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

 
Maybe it would do well for me to dwell on the predicament that Egypt and the nations and these mixed people had gotten themselves in. Maybe it would do well for me to be careful of mixing in my life those things that God tells me not to. And maybe it would be better if I learned to take Your word as Your word and not decide what I agreed with or didn’t agree with. Maybe it would be best if I acknowledge that You know far better than me every time and that You have my best interests in mind and understand them way better than me. Maybe I should just learn to trust and obey and stop trying to interject myself so much. Maybe it would be better If I let You interject Yourself into me instead, if I allowed myself to be wholly filled with You.   Then maybe I’d learn what it was to be a beacon of purity and light on the face of this darkened planet. Maybe then, I could rescue someone else from judgment. That would be much better than gaining honor for myself.

Losing the Delight of Your Eyes

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Photo credit to wikimedia.

 

“Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16)

 

I’m wondering if when we sit down and read Ezekiel if we really understand what it was like for him? What was it like for the people? What was reality? I mean, I ‘m here in chapter 24 within a month or two of reading in the mornings and meditating. But what about Ezekiel? When was the last time I stopped to think about how long You were taking Ezekiel through these things with You? Maybe today was the first time. And just to get to this point of Chapter 1 up to what’s happening in chapter 24 is a span of a man’s life of about 5 years. Imagine that. How would I feel after 5 years of being a prophet and going through all this? But how would I respond to this day in Ezekiel’s life, to this day when Ezekiel becomes the most personal picture of God He could ever imagine?

 

Oh, let the word of God come unto me. Really? Have you counted the cost? Do you really understand what that could mean? Are you really ready to stand for God no matter what? Ezekiel was. Ezekiel was fully Yours, Lord, in such a way that so greatly inspires me and tests me today. You know, I’ve read Your word lots of times. But I don’t remember this. I don’t remember this ever being significant before and I don’t understand how I ever could have read this before and not been stopped by it. This is hard stuff. This is the stuff of real faith, of make it or break it faith. This is that moment of love tested and love proved. This is purging and testing and creating the man or woman we really are and not just who we want to be. This is the making of a servant of God. This is true worship, true devotion.

 

It’s one thing to declare Your words and judgment on a people who deserve it. It’s easy for us to get smug, and holier than thou, and detached, and emotionless. It’s easy to get like Jonah who cared less if the “nasty Ninevites” got what was coming to them. Or if the Jews who had prostituted themselves from their God and involved themselves in atrocities paid the price. But You, God, don’t become detached and emotionless in the midst of it. In the midst of judgment You stay off Your pain for them because You must, not because You feel no pain. After all, here are the ones You would have brooded over and hidden under Your wings like a mother hen but they won’t have it.
Now here’s the clincher today. Ezekiel is setting up another picture of the judgment of the people. Jerusalem is like this nasty pot filled with nasty stuff and being purged over a fire. Right away, that word purge conjures up negative thoughts for me. But it shouldn’t. The Hebrew word, taher, means to be bright, to be pure. Let’s look at that kind of purity a little closer. It means physically sound, clear, unadulterated; Levitically uncontaminated; morally innocent or holy; at least according to Strong’s Concordance. It’s about ritual cleanness which prepares us to enter the presence of God undefiled. That’s what David was asking for when he prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) He understood that only God could prepare him for that. That’s still true for every one of us today.

 

It’s not a scary truth. Even Noah Webster defines purging as a positive thing. It’s “to cleanse or purify by separating and carrying off whatever is impure, heterogenous, foreign, or superfluous…to clear from guilt or moral defilement…to clear from accusation or the charge of a crime…to remove what is offensive; to sweep away impurities.” When did that become negative? Maybe when it became painful to do so because it means passing through the fire and passing the test.

 

Why would I think a prophet doesn’t have to pass through the fire to be purged? Why would only a renegade nation or person have to pass through? Don’t we all have to pass through because we all need to be purified by God His way? Who makes us holy? Who makes us pure? Who makes us sound? Does it just come easy and naturally? I think not. I think the Divine is not natural or easy at all. I think the Divine takes reliance on the Divine and not on me or my way or the prophet or his way or the will or strength of a nation and a people and their way. I think that purity, Divine purity, is a foreign affair that we have to learn the culture of and that even prophets like Ezekiel still had room to learn.

 

Here’s the clincher that hit me today. I was OK with judgment being foretold and the the image of the pot over the fire. But now You speak to Ezekiel these words: “Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with a stroke: yet neither shall you mourn nor weep, neither shall your tears run down.” (Ezekiel 24:16) Do you know what that means. To paint a picture for Ezekiel and the people, God was going to take from Ezekiel the wife that he so loved. And Ezekiel was going to have to withhold his mourning for her. Imagine that. “My faithful servant, I’m going to take your wife now, the one you love so much. In the midst of all your other suffering and the suffering to come, I’m taking her suddenly today. And you can’t cry or do the normal funeral stuff.” What? This is a loving God? Really?!

 

Yes. This is. This is a loving God who must serve justice as well as grace. You can’t separate them from who You are. This is a God who understands the pain of those you love rejecting You. This is a God who understands what it is to sacrifice that which You love the most for the good of those who don’t get it or value the sacrifice. This is a God who understands love but because we don’t, He gives us experiences where we can come to understand what He feels and what He has done for us.

 

So Ezekiel and his wife became a picture of God’s love. There is this tremendous poem written a long time ago by Barbara Miller called Ezekiel. It’s too long to share here, but I would if I could. This story of Ezekiel effected her too and she wrote a poem about Ezekiel and his wife and what it must have been like. And she shares this through the eyes of Ezekiel’s wife:
“If God had willed,
I would have gladly stayed; but we are His,
And it is sweet to do a little thing
For Him who loves us so.  He needeth me
To be a sign for Him, –my death to stand
A figure to my people, of the things
Which He will do on them, except they turn
And seek His face.  And I am so content
To die for this!  I could not speak for God,
As thou hast done so well; but I can die
For God, and for my people,– and for thee–
To aid in thy great work.
“Forbid me not;
Deny me not to Him. A day shall come
When He shall give His Dearest to the death,
For thee and me!” The clouds had parted now,
The love of God was shed abroad, within
My broken heart. I could not say Him , Nay;
Or question Him. I laid my sacrifice
Upon His altar, not denying Him
Mine only one.”

 

I really don’t know that Ezekiel’s wife understood about how Jesus, God’s own Son, His own beloved, would be the sacrifice for our sins or not. Did Abraham fully understand when he was willing to offer up his only son? Did Ezekiel understand? Am I supposed to always understand You God, or am I called to trust You, to listen and hear and act upon that hearing showing that no matter what, whether sacrifice of pain or joy unspeakable, You are God and Your plans for Your kingdom, for me and for every person on this planet is a plan for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope? (Jeremiah 29:11) Is that future and hope, is that welfare worth being purified? What is my future and my hope? Is it You? Because You alone are that future and that hope and if my future and my hope is anything else, I am lost and filthy and defiled from my purpose.
Could I respond like Ezekiel’s wife? Could I respond like Ezekiel? Any other response is wrong and not just wrong. Any other response is sin because it places something else before God. The twenty-four elders worshipping before Your throne remind us continually, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) Paul tells us in Colossians that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation and that “by Him all things were created; in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

 

So what does that matter? Through Him the fullness of God dwells and through Him God is reconciling us to Him. Jesus is our purifier. God makes known to us His love not only through words but through His actions. Am I called to less? Am I only to love God in words and not my actions? Is there a limit to my love? A price it won’t go beyond to pay? Did God have a limit for me? No! He makes known His love. And in demonstrating and not just telling us about His love, He makes us able to reciprocate that love through our lives. He enables us, in Him, to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” He strengthens us with all the power and might and endurance and patience it takes to go through the fire with Him so that we shine just like Him.

 

It’s this kind of stuff that makes us or breaks us as believers. This is the stuff that causes those around us to stop and rethink the status quo. Responding to God when it goes contrary to the world, causes people around us to stop and ask, “Will you not tell us what these things mean for us, that you are acting like this?” (Ezekiel 24:19) Does it seem senseless or pointless? It’s not. It means more than we could ever imagine and maybe more than we’ll ever know on this side of heaven. But how far am I willing to demonstrate my love? All the way or only as far as it doesn’t hurt?
So, I thought I was finished with this yesterday, but I can’t get it off of my mind. And then I heard Psalm 62. I can imagine Ezekiel saying these words, just as David did, and I’ve heard myself cry them out. “My soul, wait only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defense; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at ALL (emphasis my own) times; you people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us. Selah”. But then David doesn’t stop. He shares, “God has spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongs to God. Also unto You, O Lord, belongs mercy: for You render to every man according to his work.” What was Ezekiel’s work that it was worthy of the sacrifice of his beloved wife?

 

What if our work isn’t just about what we do or how we act? What if our work, our maaseh or maiseh is more about the story, the real story of who we are in God. That word, Maaseh Bereishit, is used when You God worked the creation of the universe. In Yiddish it’s the word for a story. Literally, it means an act or deed and ones from the word for making or doing. In Hebrew, stories are always synonymous with doing. In Greek I think of the word poeio which is the doing that flows out of being, like that of an artist or one who knows God. And I’m thinking that is the concept of work and doing and acting that David is talking about here.

 

Ezekiel knew God. He knew what it was to have God’s spirit flow through him. But he still had to trust in God. I am sure his heart told his soul to cry out to this God he trusted, to his rock and his salvation even in the midst of the loss of his wife, his beloved wife. Because maybe Ezekiel’s work was understanding and knowing and experiencing the heart of God. And when you finally start, I mean even start to understand and know and experience the heart of God, your actions and thoughts and hopes and dreams change. And your life can be turned upside down, and you can sacrifice your only son or beloved wife and give them back to the God who gave them to you in the first place, trusting, just trusting that God is God and You will still be God to those we love and those of us left behind. It’s what You do because it’s who You are. You render, You complete, You befriend and reciprocate and amend, and finish, and fulfill, and perfect and perform and prosper and restore and reward all that place themselves in You. It’s not just about prophets and kings. It’s about anyone trusting wholly in You so much that we place our whole being inside of You and accept You as You are. That’s when we receive You back as who You are. That’s the only deed, the only work that is acceptable in us, that let’s You do Your work, Your will, Your way in us, even if we must let go of our beloved. Because nothing should be more beloved than You.

 

So, Lord, what will I walk away with today? Will I remember this and will my life and thinking be changed by this? Where am I in You? Who is my most beloved? Is my heart so entwined with Yours that I know how You feel and that my actions flow from You? What story is my life displaying? Thank You, Lord, for the true story of love, commitment, and devotion that Ezekiel and You and even his wife display before us. May I love You that much, Lord. And may others be changed by the love that You have given me.

A Bad Dream

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Picture credit to illusionspoint.com

 

“‘…Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone,’ declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” Ezekiel 18:32

 
I’m up early this morning because I had a dream. It wound up being a bad dream. There was a small child next to me and he wanted to go with another person and didn’t listen when the other person said, “No.” He was at the top of a multiple flight of stairs and someone was on the partial flight slightly below. So he just jumped out for the person to  catch him anyway, only that person didn’t catch him. I couldn’t believe it. He just fell past down the flights to the floor below. And I ran and told the person to call 9-1-1 because I knew it wasn’t good. Actually, I was pretty sure the fall killed him. And I ran and held him in my arms and then I woke up. It was just a terrible feeling. There were so many reasons why it didn’t have to happen. Why couldn’t I stop him? Why didn’t he listen? Why didn’t the other person even try to catch him? How could they not hear the sound of his head hitting? Why weren’t they running to him? Why was I even having a terrible dream like this?

 
So then I get up, because now I can’t sleep any more anyway and I continue reading in Ezekiel and I almost have to ask some of the same questions. Because here I see God asking those kinds of questions of Israel and in asking those kinds of questions of Israel, You make me think about them in terms of me too. They aren’t just things to think about for people of the past, but it’s what we ought to be thinking about today as well. You ask the same question, “Why will you die?”

 

I had no pleasure in watching the death that transpired in that dream. For so many reasons it didn’t have to happen and yet it did. God, You tell us the same thing. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, so turn, and live. Step back from what you want and listen to Me. I want you to live and live abundantly. I’m not trying to keep you from something. My plans are for better things for you than you even know.”

 
And God, You aren’t like the person who didn’t even try to catch the child. Because You make every effort to turn Israel’s heart just as You make every effort to turn mine. You treat every one of us individually. That’s so amazing. You tell us, “Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) That means that children aren’t held responsible and counted guilty for the parents’ sins, nor vice versa. We are each held responsible for our own sin or righteousness.

 
You continue, “‘If a man is righteous and does what is just and right [that means according to You]—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live,’ declares the Lord GOD.” If a man walks faithfully in the ways of the God who created Him, trusting in Him and His Word and His ways, then he’s counted as righteous, just like Abram. If this man, who here happens to be a father, walks faithfully in God’s ways, he will be saved from God’s wrath and punishment because he’ll have a relationship with the God who wants to care for him. He’ll demonstrate how much he thinks of His God by living like Him. He won’t worship anyone else, because his heart is for You alone. He’ll honor and respect women because he honors and respects You. He won’t misuse others by collecting interest and being more concerned about his profit than their welfare because You are concerned about his welfare. He won’t only refrain from injustice but he will make sure that things are just between people, because justice is of You. He’ll walk in Your statutes, Your ways, and Your will, and obey You because he knows You and honors You as God and as heavenly Father and Lord.

 
But should his son choose otherwise, no matter what he’s seen in his father, then his son will be judged for his own choices. Should he choose violence and shedding blood instead (periyts and shaphak, in Hebrew), then he chooses his own way, that dishonors and defies the God who created him and those around him. He commits violence against God and others, he breaks what God intended, he robs God of His glory and murders the image of God in man. Instead, he chooses to worship idols, dishonor women, oppress the poor and needy, he cruelly takes from others, isn’t concerned with restoration, is involved in things that stand against God, is more concerned about interest and profit than people or God. This son will be judged for his choices.

 
Because that’s what it is, it’s our choice. Because this son, could have a son who has seen all the wrong things that his dad was doing. And his own son could decide to not do likewise. So God, You will judge him alone for his choices.

 
And You even are so merciful as to take it a step beyond. Because there are those who are wicked, who do all those terrible things, and all of a sudden they see what they’re doing and they turn away from their sin and commit themselves to You and now they keep Your statutes and do what is just and right and live for You. You even let this person live; he will not die. You pull him back from the flames. You hug him to You just like the one who was already there by Your side. The one who turns shall surely live too.
You are a righteous and just judge and You alone are qualified to judge us since You created us and You established the bar. “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” So maybe a right question to ask now would be, “On which side of the fence do I fall? Who am I lining my life up with? Whose statutes am I following, Yours or my own? Am I standing at the top of the stairs and jumping without listening? Am I violently falling into my own demise?”

 
My dream was rotten. It left a rotten feeling in the pit of my stomach and clouded my thoughts. God says, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” As rotten as that dream was for me, which thankfully is only a dream and didn’t really happen, imagine all the real life death and spiritual death that God must watch due to our own choices. Imagine the heart of God for those He created for His glory and to receive His love as He watches so many reject their purpose and His love and step into their own demise, into their own violence.

 
But the good news is that should we turn to the Lord, we live. You have no pleasure in the death of anyone. You have no pleasure in the death and separation from You of a willfully wicked person, nor do do You have pleasure in the death and separation of a righteous person who turns to wickedness. Well, I guess they’re both the same, aren’t they? And I guess it’s all about my will or our will and whether we understand that Your will is sovereign and Your will is best. So it’s a matter of me lining up my will with Yours and living in Your will. Because as much as I want to be, I’m not in control. I didn’t create me or the next person. I didn’t create the universe and I don’t hold it together by my word. But You do. And that ought to count for something. Actually, that counts for everything.

 
I don’t want to be a tragedy or a fatality. I don’t have to be. You share Yourself in such a way that I can know You and I can live in You and for You. As a matter of fact, for those who choose to surrender their lives back to You who created us, You don’t make us do all this on our own. You actually dwell in us by the person, power, and presence of Your Holy Spirit. And the beauty of it all is that Jesus showed us what life in You is like. And we can have it through His resurrection when we follow by dying to ourselves and our violent wills and live to Your will. He paid the price for us to be forgiven, so that our wickedness wouldn’t be remembered against us, so that God will look upon us as righteous. We follow in faith and trust. We wait for God to say, “Jump now. I’ve got you.” We don’t just do it in our own time and our own way lest we fall to our death. And what pleasure is there in that, for anyone involved? Everyone in the dream was brokenhearted. But it doesn’t have to be. God has a better way. And His name is Jesus. And I can turn to Him and live in Him and for Him. I can turn, and live. The question is, “Will I?”

Where Does My Help Come From?

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Photo credit to Brittany Cunningham.

 

“O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in Me is your help.” Hosea 13:9

 
Sometimes it’s so easy to forget where we came from. We live in a world of the “self-made” and the “self-proclaimed.” Somehow we think we got ourselves where ever we are. If we stop to think about it, how did we even get to be born and exist? Did we determine it? Did we choose the country we were born in, or our culture, or our parents, or our circumstances? But somehow we find ourselves thinking that I am in control of my own destiny. And in so doing, we are like Israel and destroy ourselves, because we miss out on the reality of life, that life is in God and that God alone is our help.

 
Funny thing is that even the name or word Israel means “he will rule as God.” Now that is not implying that Israel will make himself a god. That’s implying that Israel will rule just like God, that Israel will think like God, and love like God, and act like God, and have the mind and heart of God in what he does. It means that Israel was created to bear Your image before the world.

 
But here we have this image bearer who has destroyed himself and his image because he stopped trusting in the One who was every help he would ever need. What does God mean when He says “but in Me is your help”? How is He a help? Is a helper that important? So do we mainly do it on our own and then get a little “help” from God? Is that the idea here?

 
This word for help in Hebrew is ezer. Let’s look at how it is used in Scripture. Actually, the first two uses of this word for help are in Genesis 2:18 and 20. “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.’” And in verse 20, “And the man gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found a help meet for him.” Why was it so important to God that Adam have a helper corresponding to him? Why was this so important from the start? Why did the very first “perfect” man in the beginning still need help? Why was it not good for him to be alone? Alone how? Help from who? What kind of help? Why would God design Eve from the stuff of man to give the help he needed and to keep him from being alone? And why would God use a masculine word to describe Eve?

 
But those aren’t my only questions. Where did help really originate. I mean, Eve’s not masculine so maybe the origin is not in Eve. Maybe it’s origin, the origin of help itself, is in and from God and His alone to impart. What if ezer, that kind of help, is a “divine characteristic”? What if it has to do with God and Your relationship with Israel? How does that work? What does that look like? How are You a “help”?

 
It’s interesting. Hosea shares God’s words to Israel, “Yet I am the LORD your God from the land of Egypt; and you know no God but Me, and beside Me there is no savior.” This takes us back to Exodus 18:4 where we see ezer again. Moses named one of his sons Eliezer as a declaration “for the God of my father was my help [ezer], and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.” The ezer delivers from oppressors and rescues from danger. We have something similar in the next occurrence in Deuteronomy 33:7: “And this he said of Judah, “Hear, O LORD, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries.” What does this tell us of the ezer? “God assists, supports, and reinforces Israel against her enemies.” (Skip Moen)
The ezer doesn’t stop there. Psalm 33:20 declares, “Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.” What kind of help is that? He is the deliverer and the one who showers with loving kindnesses (hesed). He blesses and watches over. Armies don’t save kings, strength doesn’t deliver warriors, war horses don’t save or rescue but this God, this Help does! This ezer can deliver even our souls from death and fill us with gladness.
We hear an honest cry in Psalm 70:5, “But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!” Are we afflicted and in need? God provides. Why do we look elsewhere?

 
Why trust? Because only God is our help and our shield. “O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.” (Psalm 115:9) The kind of help we need, the kind of shielding cannot come from anywhere else. Only God is mighty enough to save the way we need to be saved.

 
Why rely on God’s help? “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God…” (Psalm 146:5) This is where all blessing, all true blessing and hope comes from. This is where it exists in reality. This is its origin and creator.

 
This, all of this, is help. This, all of this, is ezer. This, all of this, is God and God alone. If I am to be a help, then I can only be a true help if it is in the image of the One who IS HELP. Israel is not the creator of help and neither am I. The truth is that “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2) I didn’t make heaven and earth. I didn’t create life. Even when I gave birth to my daughters, the stuff that conception occurred from, someone else created it because there it was in my body without me putting it there. I mean, I didn’t even have a hand in forming myself. And it was the same story for my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother and on and on. How easily we exalt ourselves and give ourselves credit for things we have no power over.

 
Like Israel we sin more and more because we started giving credit to ourselves where it wasn’t due. We start seeing ourselves as our own helpers, even though it’s been You God all along. We design our own way, our own help, our own worthless idols. We think according to our own measly understanding. We become fickle and think of nothing past the here and now. We lose the eternal perspective. We create little minds grasping after air instead of great minds molded by a great God grasping after Your gloriousness and seeing and declaring greatness that is You.

 
Instead of bearing Your great image and helping like You help us, we hurt and destroy ourselves and others. We’re like morning clouds instead, that are here and then gone and leave no effect behind of any value. We’re like the worthless chaff blown away by the wind or smoke from a chimney that no one is benefitted by.

 
But the truth is that God is God. God delivered Israel from Egypt by His help. Israel was helpless on his own. Only God saves. Only God. Only God walked with Israel in the wilderness keeping the shoes and clothes whole over all those years and providing food and water. Only God fills. But the danger is in our filling and in our wanting to be filled when we want to be filled with anything other than You, God. When we hunger for other things, we help ourselves, and that’s trouble. Actually, that’s worse than trouble; that’s sin.

 
Israel isn’t the only one who has destroyed herself. You and I could be in the middle of destroying ourselves right now. Who is my help? Is it You alone, Lord? I want to be like the Canaanite woman who had the daughter who was troubled by a demon and she came to Jesus worshipping Him and said, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25) Or like the father whose son was tormented by demons who came to Jesus saying, “And often it has cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us!” (Mark 9:22) I want to be like that father who then cried out to the Lord, “Lord, help my unbelief!” Yes, I want to come to where help originates and true help is found and given. I want to go to where Paul invited us with God. “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) Paul knew and I know that our help, every help we need, is only found in You and that is where I want to be found- in You, all the days of my life, for in You is my help.

Stepping Out of the Muck

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Photo credit to Alexander Routhier.

 

“They have deeply corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah…” Hosea 9:9

 

How about a pleasant word to start off with? Well, maybe we need to skip the pleasantries until we handle what really needs to be handled. My daughter has horses and those horses have stalls but if those stalls are left without being handled, there won’t be much pleasantry. The more muck collects in the stalls, the deeper and more unpleasant it gets. Get the muck out and the whole atmosphere changes. Maybe that’s what Hosea is telling Israel and warning us. Maybe we need to focus on getting the muck out of our lives.
Hosea tells Israel, don’t be rejoicing now. You’ve got a problem you need to deal with. You have gone astray from your God. You’ve filled your life with muck instead. You don’t even know who you are.

 

It wasn’t always that way. God had seen Israel in the wilderness so to speak. He had seen Israel in this man named Abraham, a man like every other man, only Abraham was looking for something more than what man was showing him. And God saw that and saw the fruit that Abraham could bear from trusting Him. It was like grapes in the wilderness. Abraham wasn’t a grape but in God’s hands and in God’s will He was like food to the hungry. He would be like food to those in a dry place. And so God set apart a people for Himself from Abraham, and God saw their potential in Him, like the first-ripe fruit in the fig-tree at her first season. They were a fig-tree full of potentially good fruit fit to feed many. A people filled with potential from God. A people that God saw great potential in. But what happened? Where did that potential go?

 

This people that was separated unto God, chose to separate themselves unto shameful things like other gods instead of their true God. They chose to become detestable like the thing they loved. Here was a God who loved them and saw beautiful and good things coming from them in Him, but they chose to follow gods who did not love and who had no vision for them so that they could choose their own vision and their own future and their own present. They followed their hearts and their love and their desire instead of following the God whose heart was for them, whose love was over them, and whose desires were for them.

 

It’s sad. Because somehow we go after these things and become that detestable thing we hated once. Yet we don’t even realize how detestable we have become. If you don’t think that’s true, let’s go back and see what it looks like to go our own way without the God who made us for a greater purpose. Let’s see what it looks like to not hearken to God and to become a wanderer with no roots.

 

Hosea tells us that Israel corrupted themselves, as in the days of Gibeah, so let’s look at the days of Gibeah. Before we get to Gibeah, let’s understand the times. Go back a chapter before Gibeah and we see that there was no king in Israel in these days. What that lead to was people deciding on their own what they felt was right. Like in Judges 18 where a man named Micah had set up a Levite in his house and had made an ephod, a seraphim, a graven image, and a molten image. This Levite was supposed to be a man following God yet here he was leading others in worshiping false images. According to Jewish tradition his role was to be teacher and spiritual example and therefore to “lead and accompany others back to their spiritual purpose.” But things were so corrupt here that the tribe of Dan was deciding to conquer another city and thought it a good idea to have a token priest, so they took Micah’s Levite and the religious items for their own upon threat and went and conquered a people who was quiet and secure. The Levite was delighted to be sought after by a whole tribe, Micah went back in fear, and the tribe of Dan slaughtered for their own advancement. So that’s the introduction.

 

But in looking at Gibeah, the introduction continues. Again, we’re reminded that there was no king in Israel, and here we have a story of another Levite. Remember, these Levites are supposed to be leading people in God’s ways, but are they? Here is this Levite who takes a concubine out of Beth-Lehem. Levites and concubines? Does that go together? It was an accepted practice by man, but what did God think about it? It’s like having a second-rate wife, lower in status than the first. Maybe she felt that way and that’s why she played the harlot. Maybe she just liked playing the harlot. Maybe she just felt like one. I don’t know. But this Levite goes back to her dad’s house to take her back. So the woman’s father and the Levite stay and eat, drink, and be merry at the house. But finally the Levite decides to leave late in the day.

 

Leaving late in the day really wasn’t a safe idea in those days. And the servant suggested they turn in at a city of the Jebusites. But the Levite wouldn’t because they were not his people. So they travelled to Gibeah, to people of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin. And there they went but no one would offer them lodging as was custom. So I suppose, sitting in the town center all alone was this Levite and his entourage and an old man coming home from working his field sees them and invites them in to his home.

 

Now, what we hear sounds like a rehashing of Sodom and Gomorrah without all the fire raining from heaven. Men gather around the house, beating the door and asking for the man that came in so they “may know him.” Now that’s a sexual kind of knowing. But the man of the house knew that was not right and resisted them, yet he offered his virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine. But the men didn’t want that either. So the Levite takes hold of his concubine and puts her out the door where she was sexually abused all night long until they let her go in the morning. She fell down at the door of the house she was taken from. And that’s where he found her.

 

Do you know what he says? “Up, and let us be going.” But there was no answer. That’s it, “Get up, let’s go.” That’s it! I don’t know if she was dead at that point. Fell down could mean that. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. But where was sorrow? Where was caring? In these stories, where was compassion? Where was concern for one’s fellow human being? And everyone takes it as though she definitely was dead, totally dead. But I don’t even know that.

 

And then the Levite takes her back on the donkey to his house and cuts her into multiple pieces and sends a piece to each tribe. I thought Israel respected the dead?  I thought that was a way of respecting life? Do you wonder why the people of Israel responded “Such a thing has not happened nor been seen from the day that the children of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt”?   And Israel was rightly angry about that and came to Gibeah and to the Levite and the Benjamites to hear why this atrocity was done. The Levite explained, “the men of Gibeah rose against me, and beset the house round about upon me by night; me they thought to have slain, and my concubine they forced, and she is dead. And I took my concubine, and cut her in pieces, and sent her throughout all the country of the inheritance of Israel; for they have committed lewdness and wantonness in Israel.”

 

Lewdness and wantonness, abomination and outrage, lewdness and folly, shame, something terrible, perverted and godless thing, committed a vile and stupid outrage, these are all descriptions of what took place. But does it only describe the attitude and actions of the men of Gibeah, the Benjaminites? Doesn’t it describe the attitude and actions of both the Levites? Doesn’t it describe the people of Dan? or Micah? What about an attitude of a man who was supposed to protect and provide for his concubine and yet, to save his own hide he thrusts her out to be raped instead? What of a father who offers his daughter?

 

Maybe you ask, “What of God who offered His own Son?” But God was not offering Jesus to save His own hide. Like Isaac, Jesus knew the outcome, and that it was for life and the glory of God and the saving of His people. All these people we just read about, they were so busy saving themselves that they had no thought for anyone else. Maybe the sin of Gibeah is bigger than homosexuality or inhospitality. Maybe the sin around Gibeah is perversion of purpose and perversion of our design. Maybe we can get so twisted that we don’t even realize how disgustingly abhorrent and hateful we’ve become.

 

Have we read these chapters before and passed on without them churning our stomachs? Do we walk on in life and hear of women and children being raped and mistreated violently and we do nothing? Isn’t that like pushing them out the door so we can remain comfortable? Do we go along with what society does just because or even follow the comfort and ease of comfortable Christianity because it’s not dangerous?

 

Here’s the thing, God is a consuming fire. He is dangerous. Deuteronomy 4:24 tells us, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” Deuteronomy 9:3 continues, “Understand therefore this day, that the LORD your God is He which goes over before you; as a consuming fire He shall destroy them, and He shall bring them down before your face: so shall you drive them out, and destroy them quickly, as the LORD said unto you.” And Paul reaffirms this in Hebrews 12:29, “For our God is a consuming fire.” He has called us unto Him as priests and a holy nation as teachers and spiritual examples to lead others back to their spiritual purpose. Do we think He takes that lightly and will overlook when we mislead?

 

Here we have a God who is a consuming fire. He has the power to consume us but He chooses to burn away the chaff, to get rid of the muck, and to bring us forth as gold. He chooses to refine and redefine instead of destroy. But He can destroy and He will and must destroy that which refuses to be refined and redefined into it’s original design. So we can be protected and guided and led by this Consuming Fire. Or we can be consume by Him. This is each man’s choice.

 

But if my God is this consuming fire who goes before me and consumes that which stands against Him, then why didn’t the Levite stand up for that woman? Why didn’t that first Levite stand up for God and refuse his position because it was a false position over false idols? Why didn’t Benjamin care any more? Why didn’t Dan get it? They had so corrupted themselves, they were so full of muck, they didn’t even know it anymore. And what about us? Have we so corrupted our lives from Your original purpose for us? Are our minds and attitudes and lives so filled with muck that we miss it all?

 

To this date in the U.S. there have been 1,080 abortions today alone and it’s only 8:41 AM. Worldwide this year there have been 26, 760,972 and rising. And what about human trafficking? Around the world, “800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. That is 2,200 each day- over 91 people each hour!” Why? Why is this happening?

 

Because there was no king in the world. Oh, I’m not talking about one world order here. I’m talking about a King who rules men’s hearts and minds by giving them His mind and His heart. I’m talking about a King who takes away our hearts of stones that would ignore another’s need or deem ourselves as more worthy, and who would give us a heart of flesh instead. I’m talking about a King who would give His only Son for His Son’s good, and His good, and our good. I’m talking about a King who is selfless and not selfish, a King who has every right to us, a King who has created us for a glorious purpose in Him. I’m talking about a King who cares and loves and saves and stands up and fights for what is right and good and pure and true. I’m talking about a King who is no pansy, but is a consuming fire, and who is inviting us to stand with Him against all that is corrupt in this world and to not be afraid.

 

Paul wasn’t afraid to live out what those Levites should have been living. He knew that His God was a consuming fire and that His God was for Him. “According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21) What if the Levites had believed that? What about Dan or Benjamin? What if I lived like that? What if my deepest expectation and desire and hope was that I would stand for You in all boldness and allow You to be magnified in me whether it cost my life or not? Maybe then, and only then, I would have the kind of faith that saves. I guess we all have a choice to make. Will I stay in my own muck or will I step into the fire? I want to step into the fire no matter the cost. Your choice is your own. Make it wisely.