Friday, May 26, 2017

Ps 119.145

I cry out with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord! I will keep your statutes. Ps 119.145 

I remember the first time I came across the words, “Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call. Answer me.”
Raised Roman Catholic, I attended parochial school for eight years. We attended Mass on Sundays and holy days. I learned rote prayers for different sacraments, and knew the liturgy by heart.

But we didn’t use the Bible and I certainly never read Psalms. To me as a child, God was far too remote and disinterested for personal contact. Religious forms like Mass and the sacraments, not to mention the unusual furnishings and atmosphere of the place, kept Holy God away from little sinner girls like me.

I think that’s why this Scripture caught my attention. Here was someone who talked to God and expected an answer. That I identified it as a prayer says something, it was so unlike any I’d learned. We only said what God wants to hear so that he doesn’t get mad. A lot like Dad who doesn’t want to be bothered by noisy kids.

I had learned the proper way to address God when I was still very young. Every prayer started and ended by blessing myself in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, while making the sign of the cross from head to navel and shoulder to shoulder across my chest. Left to right, right hand only. 
I’m telling you, I remember the details. It’s important to God that we do it right.
To actually pray, simply repeat memorized words. According to the priests—the only ones in the know—this obligated God to answer.
No, that’s not quite right. I didn’t expect God to answer. The pre-scripted prayers were the only words he would accept from someone like me. Prayer didn’t specifically ask anything of God. That was all covered in the Our Father.

Remember, I was young, and my ignorance was due as much to my child mind as to wrong doctrine. I was being taught that God was real, but no one told me what God was like. So I pieced him together from how I had to act in his house.

I questioned the praying man’s audacity. How dared he demand that God listen and answer? No one talked like that in our church. Strangely, now, I look back on that question and feel as Samuel must have, when God called his name in the night. He too was being raised in the Lord’s house. He too had no idea that God talked to people, especially little people like him.

Yet God had a call on Samuel’s life that required them to talk together. Oh, my goodness, that’s true for me! It’s true for every Christian. It’s true for every person who ever lived. And while I appreciate so much of my Catholic upbringing, I understand why I had to leave it behind when God called me to himself.

As long as I remained under the limitations imposed by respect for the church rather than God, I’d never see him any other way.
As long as I let priests and nuns mediate for me, using their words and their actions to deal with him on my behalf, true, I’d never face the stark righteousness and holy wrath of Almighty God.
But neither would I taste the sweetness of his comfort or his patient care, or draw near in peace to the Lover of my soul who created me for himself and loves me with an everlasting love.

Being baptized as a baby, while it made me secure in the knowledge that I belonged to him, took away my responsibility to own my own sin nature. So long as I watched my step around him, God wouldn’t kick me out of his family.

All the years of going to confession, instead of teaching me the mercy and grace in God’s heart that overflowed at Calvary, simply reminded me that I was a wicked sinner who could sidestep punishment by reiterating phrases he liked to hear, especially if I got his Mother involved. Mother with a capital M.

Instead of being my first taste of forgiveness that leads to life, the Eucharist smacked of consummating a marriage. It’s called First Communion, for goodness sake! In some mysterious way, with the white gown and veil and walking down the aisle, they married me off to an Ancient Ogre. At the wedding feast, we ate the flesh and blood of his son, who paradoxically was both bride price and groom. Looking back it feels a lot creepier than it did then.

When it came time to confirm my faith, I still knew as little of what it meant to love God as I ever did. I took a patron saint whose job was to put in a good word for me with the Divine. I think. That’s when my guardian angel handed my dossier, along with the transcript of my sins, over to her, and washed his hands of me once and for all.

Honestly, that was it. I was on my own.
I could help myself by continuing to do the things I’d been taught.
Go to confession. And do the penance.
Take communion. To miss Mass was to draw the “Go directly to Hell card.”
Repeat the prayers. That’s why we memorize them.

They made this easy with a few talismans.
One, a scapular to remind me of my religion. Like I’d ever forget, given the training in those formative years!
Another, a set of rosary beads.

Jesus’s mother was my best advocate if I ever got into trouble, especially as a girl. (Did they think all girls were inclined to illegitimate teenage pregnancies? No, wait, Mary never sinned.)
It would be prudent to keep on Mother Mary’s good side. She liked a lot of attention. Ten times more prayers address Jesus’s mother than his Father in the rosary. This made sense to me. I was afraid of my dad too. And it's just easier to get what I need from mom than from dad.

After more than four decades of devotion to God, the most glaring failure is that Scripture found no place in all this.
I love that my Father God spoke to me as a child and called me into loving, living relationship. I love that I’ve tasted firsthand the goodness of his nature. I love that my Savior breathes through me. I love that by his Spirit I can see and hear the hearts of others who need him as much as I do, and I can help them find him.

But none of that came out of the religion of my childhood, despite the massive foundation laid down in me.

No, my love affair with God began when I met him outside his house. I no longer practice religion but I still belong to him. I gladly call him my God and my Friend.
My continuance in the faith rests on a deep and abiding attachment to the Word of God, whom I’ve come to know so well through the written Scriptures.
Without them, I’d still be making up sins to tell the priest, and kneeling at the altar to say a few Hail Marys.
I’d still be sticking out my tongue to receive a wafer too sacred for my hands to hold.
I’d still be sitting in the pew trying not to giggle at the silly man chanting up front.

I’d still be lost in my own Father’s house.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ps 119.144

The righteousness of your testimonies is everlasting; give me understanding, and I shall live. Ps 119.144 

And here we are back at righteousness. See what I mean about this being a theme?
We’ve already seen that God’s righteousness is defined as the rightness of all that he does. Every act (thoughts, words, and deeds) he commits is the wisest and best act that could be committed. The implication is that any act that does not conform to this standard is unrighteous. It is the definition of sin, to act other than according to the perfect will of God.
David again calls it everlasting.
That it endures is one of the great hopes of the Gospel. But what does everlasting righteousness mean? 
To find out, let’s look at some of the places where righteousness comes up in Scripture.

The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. Isaiah 32.17
The end goal of all that God does in history is to establish peace. When we actually practice doing what’s right, the result is peace, not just in our situations but in our souls too. What does that peace look and feel like? Not a lot of agitation and drama and worry and anxiety. The exact opposite, in fact. It isn’t a temporary denial of stress, either. It will last. This verse is a road map for getting out of depression and anxiety. It’s simple message echoes God’s words to Cain—do what’s right.

Who raised up one from the east? Who in righteousness called him to His feet?
Isaiah 41.2
Isaiah prophesied about the return of the captives from Babylon. But Israel was appalled that God would even send his people away. They lived confident that their status as God’s chosen people protected them from disasters like invading armies. Judah saw Assyria invade and conquer the northern kingdom, but because Hezekiah and Isaiah sought the Lord, their southern kingdom was spared. They assumed they’d be just as safe when Babylon was on the rise.
But God spoke a very unsettling word to them through the prophet Habakkuk, “Look among the nations and watch—Be utterly astounded! … For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans to possess dwelling places not their own.” Essentially, God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to come take them away. They were going into captivity because of their history of disobedience. But long before Habakkuk questioned God, Isaiah prophesied the righteousness of God’s calling of Cyrus to return them to the land at the end of the appointed exile.

Rain down, you heavens, from above, And let the skies pour down righteousness; Let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, And let righteousness spring up together. I, the Lord, have created it. Isaiah 45:8
The righteousness of heaven is the standard of God that we cannot meet apart from Christ, and the measure of perfection we attain through the Indwelling Spirit. Together they bring forth a righteousness in the earth, a salvation that God has created, from justification to sanctification to glorification.

My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, And My arms will judge the peoples; The coastlands will wait upon me, and on my arm they will trust. … But my salvation will be forever, and my righteousness will not be abolished. Isaiah 51:5-6 
At this point in the history of the world, God had already set in motion the pieces that would come together to produce the world culture elements necessary to antagonize the Jewish leaders, execute Christ, and spread the Gospel to the known world. And God saw all that preparation as his salvation going forth from him, and his righteousness being near to his people. Like the Word of the Lord that remains forever, his salvation and righteousness will never be destroyed.

Seventy weeks are determined … to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. Dan 9:24
In keeping with the messages God sent through Isaiah concerning the salvation he was working through the Jews for the whole world, God gave visions to Daniel that laid down the path of history. He showed the conflict and succession of empires. He gave glimpses into the spiritual realm. He even pictured how it would all end. More than any other passage perhaps, this verse demonstrates the eternality of God’s righteousness. His plan is so certain to take place that he declares it before it happens.

Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your saints shout for joy. I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. Psa 132:9, 16
The high priest was given garments to wear only when he went into the presence of God. This reminds us of the parable in which a guest came to the wedding feast wearing the wrong clothes. Bad move. He was thrown out into the darkness where people weep and gnash their teeth. For the priests, each article they wore had been carefully designed and crafted to reflect special meaning between God and the people. The people shouted for joy to see their priest adorned to go in to God on their behalf. How much more joy will the saints share when we see Jesus, clothed in righteousness and salvation, going into the presence of God on our behalf!

I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the Gentiles. Isa 42:6
Jesus was born to be the light to the Gentiles. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. He was lifted up from the earth and draws all men to himself. Now each one of us who bears his name has been called in righteousness to carry the light of Christ to the world. We shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the Word of Life. But we go nowhere alone when the Lord himself holds our other hand.

Across the Scriptures, righteousness speaks to the way God worked out his plan of salvation. He knew before he started what he would do, and every move on his part drove history toward the cross. There he accomplished his purpose in Christ. He daily extends the offer of eternal life to all who by faith will receive.

Ps 119.143

Trouble and anguish have overtaken me, yet your commandments are my delights. Ps 119.143 

This is about the kingdom. We can expect tribulation and trouble but when it comes we have to land on what God has commanded. He calls us to love—a crazy strategy in a world at war. He does not require evil to happen, but he knows it will. He has sent us into battle and we will be hurt. He faithfully turns all our wounds into means of strengthening our endurance and capacity for love.

But that’s hardly the point. While we’d prefer to think of ourselves as his children with the privileges of safety and comfort, we’re also his servants, actually his slaves. Our Father God is sovereign over all things. The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, including you and me. Not only that, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. He earned the Name above every name when he subjected himself to the will of God at Calvary. Every knee must bow to Jesus, including yours and mine. The Sovereign God rules creation through the God-man.

One day Jesus intends to turn the kingdom over to his father, after the last of his enemies is under his feet.
But it is not this day.  We’re still in the process of routing the enemy.
So we go to war. Foolish if we don’t admit it or prepare for it.
The Lord’s Prayer teaches us to think like warriors. Lead us not into temptation, because we’re going to follow our Commander. His commandments are our delights. We’ll go where he goes and do what he says.

So go before us, King Jesus, and scout the territory.
What lies ahead on the path of our obedience? We don’t know but we won’t let that stop us.
We press on, trusting the one who leads. Though we walk through flooding rivers we won’t drown, or through fire we won’t burn. For Jesus our King is with us, even through the valley of the shadow of death.

We will fear no evil but, please God, deliver us from it.
We are—or ought to be—always walking into enemy territory, that realm that sometimes has earthly geography, where evil has sway.

This is why we go there in Jesus’s name. We’re on a mission to rescue captives, release prisoners, declare freedom and victory. You don’t think the enemy’s going to let that happen without a fight, do you? No, they’ll turn their energies toward ridding the field of the agents of King Jesus.

That explains persecution, anyway.
Saul persecuted early Jewish Christians because they could not be warned off. People believed what they said and made Jesus their Lord. It sounded like blasphemy to say the Messiah had come and died, even if they claimed he rose again.
Until he met the ascended Jesus on the road into Damascus.
Ironically, the enemies of the kingdom now persecuted him. It didn’t matter. He took one look at the world in need of a Savior, trapped by their fear of death and the darkness of their depravity, and dressed himself for war in what has famously become known as the Armor of God.

Down through the ages, the enemies of the light have tried to silence the Gospel of the Kingdom. It never works. The blood of the martyrs, as the saying goes, is the seed of the church. To their dismay, the more the enemies destroy believers, the stronger the church becomes. That’s because there is a power that goes before us and drives out the enemy. Already defeated, they yet do not yield ground until the light of the Gospel shines their eyes out.

Christians must carry that torch into every dark corner they find. Places filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. Where people are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. Where there are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful. Where they invent ways of doing evil, disobey their parents, have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Such people need the light of truth and grace, and those enemies need to be put down.

I love the imagery that trouble and anguish overtake us in this fight. Even among Christians, some people see themselves as victims of a cosmic injustice that fails to cater to their happiness. They can’t see past what they want but don’t have, and feel they have the right to complain about their misery. Worse than the foolish Israelites in the desert who preferred the leeks and onions of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of depending on the Most High God. “Trouble and anguish” don’t overtake them so much as it grows up around them.

But for those who fight the good fight of faith, that trouble and anguish overtake us simply shows they’re pursuing from behind. We run where we need to go, we don’t sit under a broom tree and sleep. We’re on the move, pressing on toward conquest. The kingdom of God has been forcefully advancing and forceful people lay hold of it. This is not a dainty little exercise in diplomacy. We’ve been sent to make disciples in every nation. Not even the gates of Hell will stand against the onslaught of the Gospel.

Let me be clear. We do ourselves a grave disservice if we don’t accept at the outset that we will probably end up dead. As Paul said, we’re hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. We will always be given over to death for Jesus’ sake.

For the past 2000 years, believers have died for their faith. Jesus told us that to follow him meant taking up a cross. Every day. He ended up naked and bruised, bleeding and dying.
The enemy intends nothing but harm and we will be broken. Count on it.
He appears to have missed the point that brokenness is the path to our victory and his defeat.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Ps 119.142

Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is truth. Ps 119.142 

When Scripture says something twice at once, pay attention. So let’s talk about righteousness. The word comes up 315 times in Scripture. It’s often paired (58x), mostly with justice (38x) or salvation (17x) but less often with peace (10x) and with love (5x).

Righteousness is not generally a popular subject, especially in the mouth of Christians. We bow to society’s aversion and keep silent under a misguided concern to give no offense. And yet… I’m going out on a limb here, but I think we’re wrong in this. I say so because, according to Jesus, he specifically sent the Spirit to convict the world through Christians.

The Holy Spirit in them, said Jesus, convicts the world in three separate but related ways. The first is sin. People are convicted not based on bad behavior—Jesus already paid the penalty for all sin for all time—but because they don’t believe in Jesus. That makes unbelief the greatest sin, our most fundamental flaw. God loved the world in such a way that he made it possible for us to gain eternal life. Since that life is in the Son, those who believe in him have life and those who do not, don’t have life.

Second, he convicts concerning righteousness. This isn’t about sin either. It’s about transformation, about becoming someone who conforms in every way to God’s own perfect being. While faith in Jesus saves us and opens the way to eternal life, it’s the fact that Jesus has gone to the Father and is no longer visible that makes eternal life possible. His life in exchange for ours. His righteousness making everything right within us.

Simply put, if Jesus had not gone back to the Father, the Spirit could not dwell within a person, which is how he transforms us. Jesus in heaven prepares a place for us there. The Spirit here prepares us for a place in heaven. How does he do it? Externally he will transform these lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. Yes, in moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed. Internally, we all with unveiled faces are being transformed into the image of the Lord. From glory to glory, as the saying goes. What this looks like in everyday life is enough to convict the world concerning righteousness.

But it doesn’t stop there. A third conviction arises as a consequence of this transformation, and it involves judgment. We all fall short. Not a problem for those who believe in Jesus. The Spirit gives us what we lack—the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. That righteousness corrects behavior by changing our thoughts and attitudes. Both the inward and outward change is evidence that the devil has been stripped of authority and it given to Christ. 

Judgment is coming, only people are without excuse. I’m not talking here about the evidence of God’s divine nature and eternal power seen in creation. That only proves that God is real. This evidence clarifies the  distinction between good and evil—the fruit of that forbidden tree in Eden—and makes each person accountable for their own choices. Before Christ’s work on the cross, everyone was bound by sin. Now, the Spirit of life has freed us from the law of sin and death. We’re no longer slaves to sin. To choose wickedness is straight-up rebellion when the King has commanded righteousness and made it available to all.

Don’t miss the significance of the fact that the Holy Spirit’s convicting work is to happen through believers. The Spirit did not come to indwell the people of the world, but those who had faith in Jesus. At Pentecost, the Spirit was poured out on “all flesh” but not on everyone in Jerusalem or near the Upper Room. The outpouring that sounded like the whoosh of an explosion and looked like hair on fire only happened to those who already believed in Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is not out there in the air willy-nilly convicting people as they go about their day. Rather, people see how Christians live and love under the rule of the Spirit and they take notice. The evidence of his presence may be extraordinary, but it isn’t that which convicts. Visiting Jews came to see what the noise was about. The joy and freedom that had erupted looked like drunkenness, but it sounded like praise spoken in the hearer’s own language.

Yet not until Peter preached the good news of Jesus’s resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit did the crowds repent. Hadn’t Jesus told them that they would receive power to be his witnesses? Isn’t that exactly what happened? And continued to happen every single time the Spirit was poured out on a gathering of people when they put their faith in Jesus?

Many wrong teachings have gone out about the “baptism in the Spirit” but I think the worst is this, that some have made it into an individual experience to be sought for its own sake. Even the Old Testament prophet Joel, whose words Peter quoted at the time, is misrepresented. That God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh points toward the corporate context of the release of the Spirit’s power. There are moments for every individual when we commune at a sublime level in the Spirit. John was doing it on Patmos when he received the Revelation. Paul was doing it when he was taken up into the third heaven to saw surpassing things he was not allowed to discuss.

Jesus made it clear what our priorities must be. If we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all the rest is ours as well. If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we’ll be filled. Every time we gather in his Name, he is there. May he show himself present by pouring out his Spirit on us.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ps 119.141

I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts. Ps 119.141 

When did David first hear the precepts of God? I imagine him copying Moses’s words onto a scroll as Samuel dictated them. The Holy Spirit, already on David from the time of his anointing, taught him to love the commands and to live this way before God. I love the heart of this brave little David, for that’s when I think he wrote this verse. Maybe it was his first journal entry after he got his copy of the Law. 

But it didn’t have to be when he was young. David often lived under the shadow of being small and despised.
Despised by his father as too little in age to be called in from the sheep fields when the prophet came to anoint one of Jesse’s sons.
Despised by his older brothers as too little in experience to even be at the battlefield when he brought provisions from their father for the soldiers.
Despised by the king as too little in training to fight a warrior like the Philistine champion who defied the armies of the Living God.
Despised by Goliath as too little in stature to challenge him with a sling shot and five smooth stones.
Despised by Saul as too little in anointing to be acclaimed for his valiant exploits, even though he killed ten times as many enemies.
Despised by Michal as too little in dignity to sit on her father’s throne, even though God had taken the kingdom away from Saul and given it to David.
Despised even by himself as too little in worth to receive God’s promise of an eternal dynasty when he wanted to build a house for the Name of the Lord in Jerusalem.

Not long after God made that promise to him, David sinned with Bathsheba. He had to know it was wrong, given his love for God’s law. Trying to cover it up didn’t work, and killing Uriah only added to his guilt. The prophet Nathan pronounced the Lord’s judgment—adversity would arise from within his own house.

David admitted his great sin and acknowledged his bloodguilt. [Which is exactly why God would not let him build the temple, btw.] He deserved to die, but God chose to spare him and took the child’s life instead, “because by this deed he had given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” Despite God’s righteous judgment, David spent a week fasting and praying that God would extend mercy to the child. God did not relent.

When the child did not recover, David cleaned himself up and moved on. He and Bathsheba had another son, Solomon, who would one day succeed David. This is the child through whom God would keep his promise to build a dynasty for David. This child whose birth was the essence of God’s mercy to a sinful man. God did not forsake his promise because David sinned. I image David felt little in his own eyes when God named Solomon his successor.

While Solomon grew, God’s judgment of adversity arising within David’s home was executed. His son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. When David did not punish him, Absalom, Tamar’s brother and David’s second son, killed Amnon to avenge Tamar.

Absalom had little respect for David. He set about turning the hearts of the people away from the king and toward himself by settling cases apart from the court. He further subverted some of the priests and David’s counselors to his side. His insurrection culminated in declaring himself king right under David’s nose.

David packed up and fled the city, taking refuge in Mahanaim. But he never seemed to blame Absalom or anyone else for their derision or lack of loyalty. He understood his smallness before God, that God ordained this as consequence of his sin. He would not raise his hand against his despisers, for he knew how much he deserved their scorn.

Nevertheless, David had the invaluable help of Joab, who commanded the armies of Israel. Joab had one goal, and that was to protect David’s kingdom. As soon as he got the chance, he found Absalom and put him to death without mercy.
That God allowed this trouble because of David’s sin—remember Joab is the one who put Uriah on the front line at David’s request—didn’t make it right for Absalom to usurp the throne God had promised to David.

David was devastated by the death of Absalom. He wept long and loud.
Joab was furious at this because David was in danger of losing the kingdom Joab had worked so hard to return to him.
Which is ironic in its own way, since in just a few years he would side with Adonijah when he prematurely made himself David’s successor. To be fair, Adonijah truly was the first in line to inherit the throne, and David was at death’s door.

In the case of Adonijah, however, David did not hesitate to speak up.
Here we see the beauty of David’s love for God’s Word. 
He stood fast in the precepts God had ordained to be true whether it made David happy or not.
He did not resist Absalom because he saw his rebellion as the outworking of his due penalty decreed by God.
But neither did he let Adonijah take the throne, since God had clearly stated that Solomon would be king.

That’s what it means to not forget God’s precepts.
Whether we are successful in the world’s terms or not.
Whether we’re living through glorious days or suffering the heartache of loss from our own folly and sin.
Whether we have it in us to submit to  God or collapse under the weight of God’s rebuke.
Small or big, loved or scorned, we must fight to hold on to God’s Word.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ps 119.140

Your word is very pure; therefore your servant loves it. Ps 119.140 

God’s word has been put to the test, leaving no impurities or falseness. That’s why it attracts me and awakens so much devotion and such genuine pleasant affection in me.

Scripture testifies to its own purity in many places.
The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
The word of the Lord is proven. He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
Every word of God is pure. He is a shield to those who put their trust in him.
Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good.
As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby.
For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.

I wonder what David had in mind when he thought of the purity of God’s Word. Remember, Scriptures he had access to consisted only of the writings of Moses, Joshua, and Samuel, eight books at most.

To the people of Israel long before David, God had proved his Word throughout their history. Joshua led the  people into the land, conquered its kings north and south, and distributed territory to each of the tribes. He established their religion as directed by Moses and set up a memorial as witness. When it came time for him to die, he addressed the people in a farewell address, charging them to remember to serve the Lord.

“You know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing has failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spoke concerning you,” he told them. “All have come to pass for you; not one word of them has failed.”

The Lord had warned them to destroy the inhabitants of the land or they would end up snared by their idols. The cycle of oppression and judge-deliverer that followed Joshua and preceded the monarchy testifies to God meaning what he said.

God was faithful to his word to Samuel. Raised in the tabernacle, the boy learned at an early age to discern the voice of Yahweh. The first time the Lord spoke to him, it was a prophecy against the house of Eli for all their wickedness as priests. His obedience to repeat it to Eli led to further prophecies. The Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

By the time Samuel was old, the nation wanted a king. He led them in the coronation of not one but two kings according to God’s directions. David received his first copy of the Law from Samuel, and under the teaching of the prophet he learned the character of his God, the laws, the accounts of the wilderness wanderings, the conquest of the land. By the time he took the throne, he knew that God had indeed done what he said he would do. He was king over a nation whose enemies had been destroyed just as God had promised.

David also had the evidence of his own encounters with God. He learned to inquire of the Lord when he first fled from Saul and came to the priests at Nob where Ahimelech the priest sought God on his behalf.
Later when Saul slaughtered these priests, one of Ahimelech’s sons escaped t to David with the ephod from the tabernacle. From that day, David began to inquire of the Lord for himself. This is not something Saul or anyone had done besides the high priest.

David’s first inquiry concerned the Philistines robbing the threshing floors at Keilah. When his men balked, he inquired again, and got the Lord’s promise to deliver the Philistines into his hand. The next time he inquired of the Lord, the Amalekites had raided Ziklag and retreated. God said go.
After the death of Saul, David inquired whether he should go up to Judah, and to which city.
Once he had become king of Israel, the Philistines attacked, so David inquired of the Lord, who gave him permission and a battle strategy.

One of the most striking examples, however, happened when the nation had endured a famine for three years.
David knew about famines from his reading of the days of the patriarchs. Abraham went down to Egypt during the first. The Lord told Isaac to stay in Gerar during the second. Jacob brought his sons down to Joseph in Egypt during the third. The only other famine recorded in the Scriptures David had, was in the time of his great-grandmother Ruth. It was a famine that sent Elimelech and his family to Moab.

So when year after year the famine continued, David knew something was wrong. So he inquired of the Lord. “It’s because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house,” the Lord answered. “Because he killed the Gibeonites.”

The Gibeonites were a Hivite tribe north of Jerusalem when Joshua showed up and destroyed Jericho and Ai. Smart fellows won a peace treaty from the Israelites even though the Lord had told them not to make alliances with anyone living in the land. They may have been tricked into it, but God expected them to honor it. This Joshua did by making the Gibeonites caretakers for the tabernacle. Their role continued into David’s day. Saul had killed many of them for being Gentile. But God hated this violation of the treaty and sent a famine to get David’s attention in order to avenge Saul’s wrong.

You wouldn’t expect it but this story, the last recorded incident in which David publicly inquired of the Lord, is connected with the first time he did so. When Saul slaughtered the priests of Nob for helping David, the tabernacle moved to Gibeon where it remained until Solomon built the temple and brought its furnishings in.

Perhaps the reason Saul executed the Gibeonites had to do with this. Saul had lost the kingdom to David because he did not honor God. His jealousy caused him to chase David, in the course of which he set in motion a process that began with killing the priests at Nob, and ended with the tabernacle moving to Gibeon. When he saw the heathen of Gibeon serving, he killed them as a way to demonstrate his zeal. But logic but about right for Saul.

In all this, David saw the purity of God’s words, never failing and never changing. He found no need for loopholes or equivocations. He loved that God would keep his promises—for justice, faithfulness, compassion, and so much more.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ps 119.139

My zeal has consumed me, because my enemies have forgotten your words. Ps 119.139 

The one time we see Jesus letting zeal consume him, he makes a whip out of cords, drives animals out of the temple, and overturns the tables of the moneychangers. Just telling it agitates us. 

John connects Jesus cleansing the temple with Scripture that makes zeal (jealous anger) a response to enemies. The religious leaders hated what Jesus was doing, both his miracles and his teachings, because it laid bare their own impotent piety. So they sought to trap him and plotted to get rid of him, even if it meant killing him. I love this scene because we see God-in-the-flesh taking action against his enemies, which is rare in the New Testament.

Much closer to the picture most of us have of God in the Old Testament, full of wrath and judgment. He seems hard to satisfy, raging against both his enemies and his people. We have to search for tenderness or warmth in his fiery nature. The slightest infraction can bring down harsh punishment.
Adam and Eve took one bite of the forbidden fruit and lost Eden.
Cain offered the wrong sacrifice and ended up banished. Well, he did murder his brother.
God destroyed the whole world by flood, sparing only eight people who turned out not to be so righteous.
Builders at Babel were scattered for trying to get to God.
God decimated Egypt for resisting his will to free his people.
The whole generation that came out of Egypt died in the wilderness for being afraid of giants. Minus two.
Moses couldn’t enter the promised land because he lost his temper one day.
Saul lost the kingship because he didn’t wait for Samuel.
David’s son died because he sinned with Bathsheba. He did kill her husband, too.

These and so many other examples—equally misunderstood—create our idea of God as one whose temper we must fear, or risk vengeance. [I say misunderstood because what we call temper is actually holiness, and well we should fear its ruthless impulse to consume everything that offends. No one would ever be safe were it not for the mercy that triumphs over judgment in the heart of God.]

But that’s what makes Jesus so fascinating. He steps on the stage of Biblical history through the Incarnation.
God clothed himself with flesh and lived among his people. Jesus just isn’t what we would expect. How could the perfect, righteous, holy God walk among sinners and not spit nails?
I think that’s why Jesus was reluctant to interact with Gentiles. At least the holiness imparted by the covenant protected the Jews. It’s noteworthy that the two Gentile exceptions were people whose faith amazed Jesus—precursors to the gospel truth that we are saved by faith apart from the law.

Although infinitely kind, at times strong emotions affected Jesus, despite movies that portray him as insipid and weak. He was angry at the leaders who didn’t want him to heal a man’s withered hand or a demon-crippled woman because it was the Sabbath. He called them hypocrites and vipers. It’s hard to imagine a smile on his face when he talked like that.

What about the time he raised Lazarus from the dead in a very public showdown with the real enemy—death?
He groaned inwardly at the weeping of Mary and her fellow mourners. He groaned again when the Jews faulted him for not being there to heal Lazarus. That word groan comes from the way horses snort with anger or indignation. Jesus wasn’t angry with the people. He loved Mary and would never fault her sorrow. Rather, his wrath was aroused by the wrongness of death and grief, and the lies they create about his Father. Oh, but he restrained the strength of his reaction. He chose instead to right this one wrong, to take back one captive snared by death.

Here is a window into the heart of God. To walk the earth as a God-man, the Second Person of the Trinity willingly laid aside his power and privileges. 
Outside Jerusalem in the little village of Bethany, the God-heart that hates sin and the death it brings was stirred. Not one of Jesus’s miracles—not healing or multiplying bread or calming storms or driving out demons, not even resurrections—nothing demonstrates the sheer majesty of Jesus’s divinity the way his self control did in this scene. So angry at what should never be, he could then and there have broken the power of all death over all people for all time. I think his groaning tells us he even wanted to.

Death makes wretches of people, and this makes God angry. Death may be the due penalty for sin, but it was never God’s intention that we should suffer at its hands. Death, from its first appearance in Eden, evokes nothing but the wrath of God. This anger that we see so much of in the Old Testament is not toward sinners but toward the slavery that sin brings. God hates sin for this reason. He mandated death as the penalty for sin as the necessary means to the Atonement. Other than that, death has no value to God. Every funeral Jesus went to, he raised the dead to life.

Can you imagine the hurt Jesus felt at being faulted his not healing Lazarus?
Foolish people, they had no idea God has in mind a far greater life than the best we hope to experience here.
Shame on us if we only want earthly health, as those critics did, when God has worked out an eternity in his presence where he himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes. No more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. No more pain, because everything from this life—good as it might be—will have passed away.

Oh God, may your zeal consume me when your enemies forget your words.