Showing posts with label Old Testament. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Old Testament. Show all posts

Monday, July 20, 2009

July 20 - St. Elijah, Truth-Teller

In our world, there is no shortage of people who claim an intimate relationship with God and an innate sense of God's desires and will. Very often it seems that you don't even need to ask to receive advice from somebody about what God wants--specifically--for you to do. Regrettably, many of these people take the Lord's name in vain by granting divine authorship to personal opinion. For those who speak with power and certainty the story of Elijah can be unnerving--in a good way. For Elijah was a truth-teller and a man who knew the life-giving intimacy of the Lord God Almighty.

Elijah was born nearly 2900 years ago. He is noted as a prophet but we must be clear not to call him a fortune-teller but, rather, a truth-teller. After all, there is no room within the faith of Moishe, Eliyahu, and Yeshua for sorcery and idle predictions of the future--the future is in Adonai's hands and not a matter of concern. Instead, Adonai (God) spoke with Elijah and told him about the evil acts of the King and Queen of Israel (Ahab and Jezebel). They had forgotten Adonai and begun worshiping idols of Baal because they thought it would bring them good rain and crops. The people had tried to make life for themselves not knowing that any life they could make for themselves wouldn't stand the test of time. In a haphazard pursuit of life, they had chosen a bland mockery of life because it was easy instead of pursuing life more abundant in Adonai.

Adonai sent Elijah to teach a lesson about life to those who had abandoned it intentionally or ignorantly. Elijah came before them and told them the truth God had given to him: a drought was coming because of the rejection of Adonai. The cheap security and supposed power of Baal was being called into question by Elijah's prophecy. If the people had chosen predictability and a god they could control over life/Adonai, then they should know what they were choosing: death. And, so, in a very visceral and symbolic way the water was withdrawn from those who had withdrawn themselves from Adonai.


As the flower wilts when removed from the soil and its life-giving moisture, so also go those created by Adonai when removed from God—the ground of their being—and the spiritual sustenance of Adonai—King of the Universe.

This truth, however, was missed by those who refused to see it. Instead of accepting their own complicity in their disconnection from Adonai, they blamed Elijah and, so, Elijah fled for his life. While fleeing from those who claimed to be the people of God, Elijah was provided for first by unclean birds and, then, by a poor widow. It is of no little importance that the prophet of Adonai was cared for not by the people who claimed such intimacy with God but, rather, by the least equipped and least likely of the world. For, you see, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not dwell only in a temple built with mortal hands—an idea that we must all relearn repeatedly.

Elijah would go on to do many other things including raise the widow's son from the dead, provide for her and her family, contest with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, flee again from the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel, hear the “still small voice” of Adonai, be assumed into the presence of Adonai on a chariot of fire, and be present for the transfiguration of Jesus the Christ. Elijah was, truly, a prophet who spoke powerful truth about the nature of our lives and connection to the Lord God Almighty. His story speaks volumes about what intimacy with God looks like: life-giving as in the raising of the widow's son, sustaining as in the provision of oil and flour for the widow's family, among the unclean as in the ministrations of the ravens to Elijah, gentle, humble, and personal as in the still-small-voice, concerned with the weak and powerless as in Elijah's community with the widow, empowered but prayerful as in the contest with the priests of Baal, dependent as in Elijah's constant need for intimacy and affirmation from Adonai, and transfiguring.

Elijah reminds us all what it looks like to tell the truth in a powerful way. Elijah reminds us all of the life-sustaining-and-redeeming power of the still-small-voice of the Lord God Almighty.

Monday, June 15, 2009

June 15 - Amos, Outcast, Trouble Maker, Voice of God

Amos had a message that was unwelcome but needed. Since he was called to speak for God to a people who had grown fat on success given by God's grace, he knew he wouldn't be heard. But sometimes--perhaps always--the job of a prophet is to speak truth even in the face of ignorance and resistance. So, Amos spoke as God directed him:

"Hear what God had to say to us, Israel, and know that it doesn't make me happy to say it for it is a sad word for me, as well:

Sweet, lady Israel is falling and will not rise from the dust.
She will be abandoned by all
and will have none to pick her up in her hour of need.

For thus says the Lord God:
only one of every ten soldiers who leaves the city shall return.

This is what God has to say to us:
Seek God and live
but don't chase after Bethel,
place no confidence in Gilgal,
and don't entrust youreslves to Beer-sheba;
for Gilgal shall be cast away and Bethel shall fade from the earth

Take time now to seek God and to find life in the seeking
or know that God's wrath--which we deserve--will consume us like fire
it will devour our sin and we will catch fire with it.
Oh, you who turn justice to vanity!
You who bring the stain of sin to righteousness!


Remember the one who made the stars that others kneel before
who brings light into the deepest darkness
who brings the dark of night to even the brightest day
who commands the chaotic waters of the seas,

who bends their wills to serve His

Remember this one! The Lord is His name
who displays even greater power still against the strong
so that even the strongest of us are nothing before Him.

Those strong ones among us hate those who correct them,
they loathe the one who
has the audacity to speak truth.

So, listen up, strong people and know that because you trample the poor whom God loves
and tax the have-nots to increase your wealth
You may have built a beautiful house like none other
but you shall not live in it;
You may have planted a gorgeous vineyard, but you will not enjoys its wine.
For God knows your many sins
and knows just how grievous they are--
Yes, God knows that you afflict the righteous and are bought by bribery.
God knows you push the needy aside in public and have no patience with God's beloved.

If you know what's good for you then you'll shut your mouth;
because there is plenty of punishment to go around.


Why not try seeking God and rejecting evil?
In doing so, you might live,
and the Lord God Almighty will walk alongside you,
just as you have already claimed--it's not too late!

Despise evil and love goodness,

and reclaim the healing power of justice performed in public;

If so, it's possible that the Lord God Almighty
might offer undeserved grace to the remnant left after God's judgment.

This is what the Lord God Almighty has to say:
The cities will be filled with wailing
and in the streets the word on everybody's lips will be 'Alas!'
Farmers will turn from their hard work to the harder work of mourning,
and those whose lips are skilled in lamentation will give themselves over to wordless grief.
The vineyards will be filled with the cries of the people
for God will pass through the people in judgment.


But, woe to those who anxiously await the day of the Lord's judgment!
Who would want the day of the Lord's judgment?
It is a dark day--not a bright one;
it will be as if someone fled for their life from a lion,
and ran into the arms of a bloodthirsty bear.

or went into his home--a place of safety--and rested his hand on his wall,
only to be bitten by a snake.
Is there some joy in God's coming judgment that we might look forward to it?
Is there some silver lining to that dark cloud?

Don't you get it?
God hates--despises--the festivals of our people
God takes no delight in our solemn assemblies--in all our self-obsessed pomp!
Even though we lift up offerings and sacrifices in the name of ritual
God will not receive them.
We offer our best in mechanical repetition of past ritual
but God will not even look upon the heartless offering.
God won't listen to the noise we call songs of praise if our hearts are not in the right place
God has no time to hear beautiful melodies from darkened hearts.

You want to please God?
Then, let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

June 14 - Elisha, Prophet, Friend and Follower of Elijah, Abandoned Everything

Elisha wasn't expecting to become a prophet on the day he set out from his home--not too far from the home of his father Shaphat--to plow the land that would once again bring forth food for the whole family. No, he had been planning on doing the work demanded of him by his station in life--he knew that farmers had to work to live. So, he had taken all twenty-four of his oxen and yoked them together in pairs. Then he had lined the twelve yoke of oxen ahead of the plow and set the blade of the plow into the earth. At his command, the oxen surged forward and pulled the plow through the rocky soil. The land wasn't rich with nutrients or especially flat but it was all Elisha had and so he took care of it as best he could. After all, his life depended on his ability to deliver sustenance from hard and rocky soil. As they plowed, a prophet walked by and Elisha stopped to watch him. He knew this man to be Elijah and he took a moment to think of what Elijah's life must have been like. As Elisha stood behind the oxen thinking, Elijah took off his mantle and threw it over Elisha's neck. Elisha instantly knew what this meant--he knew what Elijah was wordlessly asking.

He left the oxen in the field and ran after Elijah to catch him since Elijah had not stopped walking since he threw the mantle. He caught up to him and said, "Elijah, if you'll wait a bit, then I'll go and kiss my mother and father goodbye and follow you." Elisha knew that the mantle had been Elijah's invitation for Elisha to become his student and follower. He also knew that following after Elijah would be the biggest change his life could ever know and likely meant he would never again see the face of his mother and father. Sometimes, callings make high demands and expect more than we are often comfortable giving--but that doesn't make them any less important or valuable.

Elijah responded, "Go on then, if you're going to follow me then it's going to be with a clean heart and conscience." Then, Elijah sat down in the road and prayed before his God--the same God whom Elisha prayed before every day and every night. Elisha drove the oxen back home and left them in their yokes once they reached his house. He ran to the home of his mother and father and excitedly told them what had happened by the road only moments ago. They were excited for him, as any good father and mother would be, but they, too, knew what it meant: a calling was taking their son away from them and they would never see him again. So, through tears and laughter, parents and son kissed and told their love and devotion. Then, Elisha ran back to his oxen with only one more plan in mind.

He took all twenty-four of his oxen and slaughtered them one by one. He had something in mind and couldn't leave the place of his birth and most of his life without doing one last thing. He broke down the plow that had been entrusted to him to farm the soil and set it ablaze. Slowly and purposefully, he began to roast the slaughtered oxen. The smell began to attract visitors and when they came they were given large portions of meat. Meat was a rarity at the time and this was a feast. It was some type of celebration and the crowds appreciated it but it was also lunacy for a man to slaughter his own oxen to feed onlookers. Sometimes a calling is lunacy not only in the eyes of the world but also in the eyes of the called. It must have been hard for Elisha to break those years of tradition but in roasting those oxen he further committed himself to a new tradition: the life and ways of a prophet.

Having fed the people the meat from his two dozen oxen, Elisha bid them farewell and returned to Elijah who was still praying on the road. "Ready to go?" Elijah asked.

"More than ever," Elisha replied.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 10 - Isaiah, Prophet, Truthteller, Sealed by the Fire of God for the Service of God

Remember that it was in the year that the king named Uzziah died that Isaiah saw God sitting on God's throne high and lofty in God's heaven. As Isaiah stood in the temple--the place where God was said to dwell--he noticed that even the bottom of God's garment more than filled up the temple. As he looked heavenward he saw that there was a special kind of angel--a seraph--given to attending to God. Each of them had six wings but only used two to fly about in God's glory. With two of the wings they covered their faces to shield themselves from God's glory and with the other two they covered over their feet. They sang a joyous song one to another in a voice unlike singing and unlike yelling. The words of their proclamation were: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; God's glory fills the whole earth."

At the sound of the seraph's proclamations and under the weight of God's glory the whole temple shook and groaned as it was filled with smoke. Isaiah was overcome by this fabulous vision and he cried out in a mix of awe and fear, "Woe is me and for me there is no hope. I am lost for I have seen God--the Lord of hosts--with my eyes and cannot tell others for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips." One of the seraphs removed a single coal from the fire that burned before God with a pair of tongs. It flew down to Isaiah and Isaiah quaked in recognition of what was happening. The seraph reached out the coal and touched it to Isaiah's lips. As it burned Isaiah the seraph said, "Now that God's fire has touched your lips your guilt is cast aside from you, your sin is blotted out and you are a man of clean lips."

Finally, God spoke and Isaiah listened. Indicating the people of Israel and the temple that Isaiah stood in, God asked, "Who should I send, Isaiah? Who will go and speak for us?"

Isaiah plucked up his courage and through lips burnt by God's spire he squeaked out, "Me, God. I'm here. Send me!"

Some time later after Isaiah had begun being a prophet of God he was sent to Ahaz to speak on behalf of God. Ahaz and many of the people were afraid that the foreign invaders at their door would overwhelm the city and slaughter the people. God had promised that these invaders would fail but Ahaz found it very hard to believe. Isaiah insisted that God would keep God's promises but Ahaz still balked. So, Isaiah said to Ahaz, "Ask for a sign of God's faithfulness. It can be as deep as Sheol or as high as God's heaven. God will prove it to you." Ahaz refused to do so and so Isaiah spoke again, "It's not enough that you worry the people but you feel the need to worry God, too? Fine, then, but listen closely because you're still getting a sign because God is still faithful even if you refuse to see it." Walking to another point in the room he pointed at a woman and continued, "Look here at this young woman. She is already carrying a child within her. She'll give birth and they shall call the boy 'Immanuel' (or God is with us). By the time the boy is old enough to refuse evil and choose God for himself God will already have solved Israel's problem and taken care of the two kings that terrify you so much. So keep your eyes open and know that God will keep God's promises."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May 6 - Job, Long-Suffering, Blameless, Beloved by God

Job was the kind of guy to which blame and shame won't stick. He feared God and turned away from evil thoughts and actions. Job had many sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and servants but he was so blameless you know what Job did? When his seven sons and three daughters would gather for a feast at one of their houses he would figure out when the feast was over and would then rise early in the morning to offer a burnt sacrifice on their behalf before God. Just in case one of them had sinned--that is to say cursed God in their hearts--Job offered sacrifices for them because of his great love and his blamelessness. This is what Job always did.

One day, though, the heavenly beings assembled before God Almighty and the Adversary came in among them God said to the Adversary, "Where have you been?"

The Adversary responded, "Oh, here and there and everywhere in between as I've been looking around Earth."

God said to the Adversary, "Well, if you've been on Earth have you noticed my servant Job? That one is unique among all people." Then, God told the Adversary all about how blameless Job was and how he offered sacrifices just in case. He continued, "Job is a man who turns his back on evil."

So, the Adversary responded, "Of course he's blameless, you haven't given him an obstacle for him to fail upon. You've fenced him in with your protection and you've blessed everything he touches. Of course, he turns to you and away from evil--you've made it worth it!" As the words of the Adversary's dismissive accusations began to register with the heavenly audience, the Adversary continued, "If you want to see how blameless and good the man is then give him some pain and see how long he praises you. He'll curse you to your face!

God responded, "So be it. I'll withdraw my protection and allow you to assault him. You cannot harm him, though. You can only take from him the parts of life you seem to think of as bribes." At these words, the Adversary departed from the presence of God.

Shortly thereafter Job's seven sons and three daughters were having one of their feasts in the home of the eldest son. Thus began one of the worst days of not only Job's life but, perhaps, of anybody's life. A servant of Job came to him looking beaten and tired--still panting from his run--and told Job that the Sabeans had attacked the servants minding the donkeys and oxen while they were plowing and feeding. The Sabeans had killed the servants--except the one messenger--and stolen all of Job's oxen and donkeys. As this was sinking in another servant arrived to tell Job that fire had descended from the skies and consumed the sheep and the servants who tended them. Job was already overwhelmed with his loss but as he was reeling another servant arrived and told him that the Chaldeans had come and stolen all of the camels and killed the servants who were watching over them. He was stunned and the three servants already there must have been amazed at the suddenness of this loss but even more surprised when a fourth servant arrived who looked as only somebody with terrible and life-changing news can look. He told Job that the a great wind had ripped through the land where his children had been eating and the house collapsed upon them and all the servants--none had survived. The servants shook their heads at the seeming incoherence of so much death and destruction and Job seemed unable even to take all this sorrow in.

Finally, after what must have felt like days, Job stood up and tore his robe in a sign of mourning. He drew his blade and used it to shave his head. He mourned the loss and fell on the ground and wept uncontrollably at his monumental loss. As he sobbed, he began to pray and worship even in the midst of such horror. He said, "I entered this world with nothing and that is also how I will leave this world. The Lord has given me everything I've ever had and now the Lord has taken nearly all of it away." The final sentence of his tearful worship may have been proclaimed through gritted teeth, "Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty." The Adversary had done its worst and been unable to get Job to sin or accuse God of wrong.

But that wasn't enough for the Adversary--the one who opposes us and God at every turn--and so the Adversary came again before God almighty before the heavenly audience. God said to the Adversary, "Where have you been?"

The Adversary responded, "Oh, here and there and everywhere in between as I've been looking around Earth."

God said, "Then surely you've seen my servant Job? Remember him? The one who is blameless and who turns toward me and away from evil? Sure you do! He's the one you were confident would curse me if he no longer had the blessings I gave him. Well, I'm sure you've noticed that he never cursed me or turned his back on me."

With a wounded ego and prideful confidence the Adversary responded, "You wouldn't let me go far enough! He is good--assuredly--but even the best humans will give anything to save their lives. Take away his physical comfort and his health and he will surely curse you!"

God responded, "So be it. You may take more from Job but you cannot kill him."

So, the Adversary left the presence of God to afflict Job with painful and open sores all over his body from the top of his head to bottoms of his feet. In his pain, Job took a piece of broken clay pottery and used it to scrape the painful, weeping sores that covered his body. He sat in the ashes of his mourning and suffered. Finally, his wife came to him--exasparated and deep in her own grief--and asked him, "Are you still refusing to curse God? Can't you see that it is God's fault that you now suffer? Maybe if you curse God, then God will kill you and you'll at least have some small comfort in that."

Job responded, "You speak foolishness! Should we happily accept the good things that God gives us and then be like petulant children when we are given the bad? Do you believe that God owes us something that God isn't giving us?" With this refusal and with every other word and action, Job did neither sinned against nor cursed God.

Monday, December 29, 2008

December 29 - David, King of Israel, Shepherd, "a Man after God's Own Heart"

David was "a man after God's own heart." He had been the youngest and apparently least fit member of his family when Samuel came looking to anoint a new king of Israel to replace Saul eventually. They didn't even call him in from the field since they needed somebody to watch the flock and protect it and he was considered so unlikely to be the choice. To be honest, Jesse and the rest of the boys fully expected that it would be the oldest son who was selected yet God didn't move Samuel's hand to the mature and muscular man who stood at the front of the line. One by one, Samuel looked into the eyes of the boys and hesitated to hear the voice of God--nothing happened. He began to get worried as he approached the last boy and there weren't any bells going off in his head. He second guessed himself and must have wondered if there wasn't something that was his fault keeping him from hearing God. Then, he ventured a question: "There isn't another, is there?" As the words left his mouth, the tension that had been building in Jesse and the boys reached a fever pitch--of course, there was one more and as the old prophet had moved on from each boy they all breathed in deeply fearing that they had left the next king of Israel alone in the field with the sheep. Jesse sent for the boy and Samuel heard the voice of God. So, he anointed David and proclaimed that this one would be the next king. But, this wasn't why David was "a man after God's own heart."

David was "a man after God's own heart." He had shown courage when no other Israelite dared test God's faithfulness by standing up to Goliath. He gathered five stones--we cannot forget that Goliath had four brothers back in Gath--and strode into battle without the heavy armor to weigh him down. Saul had wanted the boy to take Israel's best efforts at protection with him but God wanted the boy to take only his faith and a sling. He was mocked by the beastly man but refused to be rebuffed--he had God on his side. He swung the sling and released the stone that would fell the mighty warrior with one precision blow of God's will. The army rode the wave of ecstatic jubilation into battle and routed the Philistines. But, this wasn't why David was "a man after God's own heart."

David was "a man after God's own heart." Saul began to fear David's success because of the conversations and songs of the people--it was clear that they were enamored with the man who had slain Goliath and gained Samuel's approval. This was a man of God who stood in contrast to Saul's impetuous behavior. Saul devised ways to bring about David's death but his own son--Jonathan--worked with David to assure his safety. Saul chased after David but David was always one step ahead. When David had the chance to return the favor and kill Saul, he crept away but left a message for Saul who woke up and deduced that David had been close when he was vulnerable and chosen not to kill him. But, this wasn't why David was "a man after God's own heart."

David was "a man after God's own heart." He became king of Israel and led the armies in many successful battles. Yet once when he was at home and his armies were away, he had the bad fortune to be high in palace and to look upon a beautiful woman--Bathsheba--bathing nearby. His heart burned with lust for the woman and he had her brought to him. In a torrent of passion, the two humans gave into their desire and became adulterers. In an attempt to cover over his sin, he called the woman's husband--Uriah--home from the battlelines to be with her. The hope was that they would have sex and Bathsheba and David's sin would be concealed but Uriah's loyalty to David and Israel meant that he slept on the ground outside the palace because he knew it wasn't fair for him to be home and his brothers in arms to be so far away. So, David's fear gripped him and he made a terrible mistake: he sent Uriah back with an order that he be sent to the front lines of battle to die at the hands of the enemies of Israel. But, this surely wasn't why David was "a man after God's own heart."

David was "a man after God's own heart" because of what he did next. When God's judgment was visited upon David and Bathsheba for their sin, Nathan told David that the child would die. David was struck to the core of his heart with sorrow for his sin and its creeping effects upon others. He recognized how he had injured Bathsheba gravely because of lust--not love--and murdered a man who was loyal to him to a fault. Further, he had brought about the death of his own child because of the sinful expression of his own dominant will. The glass of David's self-delusions began cracking as the sin spider-webbed out into his life and laid its sickly clutches upon all the good things in his life and tarnishing them. He turned to God in repentance and sobbed and prayed. The child still died but David had learned not only the lingering effects of sin but also the power and necesity of repentance. David was "a man after God's own heart" because he knew how to lament, pray, and repent when forced to recognize exactly what he was: a broken and sinful man.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December 17 - Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Near Martyrs

"You see, fellas, those Jews can look healthy, too, thanks to the fine food they eat here in our palaces." boasted king Nebuchadnezzar. He was answered with the expected nods and grunts of affirmation. Being the king of Babylon meant that people agreed with you and didn't bother to correct you when you were wrong. The four men he was referring to were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and they had secretly requested not to eat the meat offered them since it had been offered to idols first. In an attempt to keep themselves clean, they had risked the wrath of one who is always right--those who are always right must do much to maintain their status--and so they had been allowed to eat only vegetables for ten days and drink only water as a test. Their handler had been hesitant to allow it but was amazed to see them looking healthier every day as they subsisted upon the bare minimum and prayer. Even now, the king could not tell that his prisoners had been refusing his meat.

Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel had been taken captive when the Babylonians overwhelmed and overran Judah. The four men had been of noble birth and blood in Israel and so they made effective bargaining tools for the Babylonians who hoped to purchase Judah's submission with threats of death and violence against the noble and respected. In essence, they were hostages but they were treated well. They were provided with fine accommodations and were even allowed to worship as they pleased--sometimes. They were even given Babylonian names (you may be more familiar with some of these): Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were addressed by these names but they remained connected with their heritage. Consequently, three of them (all but Daniel) ran into some trouble when Nebuchadnezzar built a gold statue of himself to be worshiped.

He had decreed that when the people heard a great cacophany of musical instruments, they should immediately cease all other activities and bow before the statue of the king. The people were quick to oblige for they knew the penalty for withholding worship of the king would be severe and immediate. As if to prove them right, Nebuchadnezzar had his workers build a furnace to ruthlessly murder any one who would dare defy his royal order. The king knew that this visible threat would cause the hearts of the hesitant to quake and surrender. Yet, he didn't anticipate Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. The instruments were played and people shouted. The crowd dropped to the ground in reverence to their manipulative persecutor but the three men stayed on their feet, perhaps mumbling a prayer to the Lord God Almighty whom their true names made reference to. He ordered them brought before him to face his fury. He had the guards drag them near to the furnace as it blazed and crackled. "Bow before me as your god or you will burn this very moment." The three men shook their heads and insisted that there was only one God worthy of worship. Nebuchadnezzar demanded worship but God was worthy of worship without demands or manipulations. "Make it hotter--seven times hotter!" screamed Nebuchadnezzar and his anxious workers did as he commanded. "Will you not now save yourselves and worship me?" he asked them. They resolutely refused.

So, he threw them into the fiery furnace and as they entered into the flames, bound by ropes, their entrance caused the flames to shoot out and consume the men who threw them in. This was no concern for Nebuchadnezzar who had no care for the men he manipulated. Expecting to harvest the fear he produced in those who watched his heinous actions, Nebuchadnezzar was surprised to see what looked like four men walking together in the flames. "How is this possible? and who is that fourth man?" he questioned his men in surprise. A murmur rose up that the fourth must be one appointed by God to go forth and watch over them in the flames. The ropes had been consumed but they were fine. "Come out, please." Nebuchadnezzar pleaded with the men. The three men came out at his request and were untouched by the fire or the soot. Nebuchadnezzar didn't know what to say but eventually decreed that nobody should oppose the God of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Perhaps that is the one good thing to say for Nebuchadnezzar in the story: he recognized that there was one greater than himself even if it had no immediate impact on his life except to provide him a way to avoid losing face before the near-martyrs: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 19 - Obadiah, Prophet, Soldier, Writer

"Be quiet. You can hide here but only if we can keep it secret. You need to remember that we'll all be killed if they find out what we're doing." Obadiah closed secret entrance to the cave after raising his finger to his lips to indicate the silence he hoped for. Then, he walked a few hundred feet to the entrance of the other cave and repeated himself to another group of prophets. Obadiah was a servant of Ahab and Jezebel but could not follow through with their orders to have the prophets killed. He had remained loyal to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even when it seemed the rest of his people and peers had turned their backs on their heritage in favor of the illusion of power and sophistication.

Worship of Baal was widespread through Israel yet Obadiah continued to worship the one God of Israel. The only major difference now was that he had to do it in secret most of the time. Obadiah had hidden prophets in caves so that Jezebel might not find them and slaughter them. He had split the groups into two smaller groups so that they could be hidden in separate caves. This way, if one cave was discovered and raided, the prophets in the other cave could escape quickly and some of them might be saved from Jezebel's bloody hands.

Eventually, Ahab and Jezebel grew tired of the prophet Elijah who resisted them and seemed untouchable. They gathered up three detachments of soldiers and sent them out to arrest Elijah and bring him back to answer their questions. Obadiah was one of the soldier leaders who led the third detachment of soldiers. The three groups went off to do the dirty work of the idolatrous rulers and seize God's prophet. As the first detachment approached Elijah, they noticed that he did not seem prepared to resist them. Instead, they found him kneeling and wordlessly moving his lips in prayer. As they approached--calling out to him loudly with mockery in their voices--fire consumed them as if it had fallen from the sky. With more hesitation, the second detachment continued their advance on Elijah and soon fell to the same fate of incineration. As Obadiah's detachment approached, Obadiah offered his own prayers and was surprised to see that the same fate did not befall the frightened group of soldiers. "All of you have been spared," shouted Elijah as he pointed at Obadiah, "because of this man's devotion to the one true God of Israel."

Obadiah and Elijah shared the Faith with the soldiers and as they were preparing to return to Ahab and Jezebel empty handed they were surprised to see that Obadiah was removing his weapons and armor. "Take these back with you and give them to Ahab and Jezebel," he said, "I shall serve them no longer." They did as he requested and Obadiah stayed with Elijah to learn more about the life of a prophet. He felt a strong calling to speak truth in a powerful way regardless of cost or threat. He became a prophet to Edom and prophesied of a coming day of judgment for all nations. Before he died, or perhaps shortly thereafter, some of his words were recorded. It was Obadiah who said, "For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head." The man who had remained faithful even in the face of great threat and danger called all people to remember God's justice and judgment even before it became so powerfully apparent.

Friday, October 17, 2008

October 17 - End of Exile

They had been hearing rumors of the Persians for quite some time. Of course, it was wise to keep their heads low and act like they knew nothing. The Babylonians were not happy to hear the name of Cyrus or of his Persian army. The Jews in Babylon didn't know what to suspect with the coming of a new conqueror. They were still getting over their own conquest. In 586 BCE, the Babylonians had stormed through Israel and crushed the people under their feet. The Temple--the very dwelling of God almighty--had been torn down and the Babylonians had sneered at them asking them where the Jews' powerful God was when Babylon came around. Was he scared? Most of them had no idea why the God they had slowly filtered through their nationalism seemed silent. Some had heard Jeremiah and others talk about the coming of judgment from the east. They remembered what Jeremiah had said about conquest and exile. Then, the Babylonians had seized the powerful and the wealthy and put them in chains. They were carried back to Babylon before their captors. All the while, they were mocked and asked to play some of their beautiful songs. Their joyous songs of God's power and protection turned to ash in their mouth as they smelled the smoke coming from the ruins of their lives.

Time had passed. In fact, almost fifty years had passed since they had been exiled from the land God had promised them. Surely they wondered if it was a land of broken promises. They had been exiled from the god they had made when they had tried to break the almighty God into easily pocketed pieces. The people had found God in the wastes when taken away from all the things that distracted them. They found that they could sing their songs again when they came into intimate contact with the One who had inspired them. They found that God was in the world in more places than the Temple. They had lost their nation but gained an identity. But, now, there was another conqueror bearing down upon them.

Cyrus the Great and the Persians conquered Babylon by marching in at night and seizing the city. It was a remarkably quick conquest and resulted in the Babylonian rulers being seized and deposed. Cyrus looked around and declared himself "king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world." There were few that could deny this in the wake of his impressive campaigns. Though he attributed the success to his own gods, the Jews' hearts beat with hope that it was the one God that had ordained this change. Soon, Cyrus issued an edict that there would be changes under his rule and that one of these changes was granting freedom to the Jews to return to Israel. Stories say that approximately 40,000 Jews elected to return to Israel but it is perhaps more notable that some chose not to return. Surely, some did not return because they had found a new successful life in Babylon and had given up on any faith--they had nothing to make them want to return. Some returned because their faith was renewed and they wanted to take it back with them. Yet, others remained in Babylon knowing that their faith transcended geography and location. In the exile, they had found redemption. In the destruction of religion, they had found God.

Friday, September 26, 2008

September 26 - Jeremiah, Prophet, Prisoner

To be fair, he had seen it coming. Jeremiah had stood among the people of God and yelled as loud as he could. As they went about their days and the activities therein, they failed to notice the waterfall this river of humanity was approaching. Ignorant of where their path was leading them, they didn't understand what Jeremiah was saying. To be fair, though, God had told Jeremiah to expect this. God had said, "You will go to them; but I know them--they will not listen." So, Jeremiah stood in the middle of his friends and family and screamed distasteful and disagreeable things--true things. Many ignored him because they couldn't begin to understand what he was saying. Others understood what he was saying but refused to believe that it could be true. "No," they thought, "God is still with us. Didn't he just recently turn away those Babylonians?" Jeremiah alternated between tears for their ignorance and disgust for their hardheartedness.

Jeremiah was thrown in jail for telling the truth to people who didn't want to hear it and had the power to punish him for saying it. Jeremiah was beaten, mocked, and abused. Jeremiah even knew he would fail from the beginning. Yet, Jeremiah continued to share the message of repentance and faith in God because God had called him to do so. He lamented his calling. He disliked his calling. But, he lived into it because doing so was what his life of faith and trust in God demanded.

Knowing that people were hearing his words but not hearing his message, Jeremiah tried reaching out to them in different ways. He hoped desperately to break through the walls the people had constructed around themselves. He walked around town wearing a yoke around his neck. When people were shocked out of their apathy enough by this strange sight, they learned that Jeremiah was making a statement about the coming enslavement of the Jews by the Babylonians. When Babylon had laid siege to Jerusalem, Jeremiah made the ridiculous gesture of repurchasing the land of his family--the same land that was currently underneath Babylonian feet. This was a sign of hope for a day when the people of Israel could return again to Jerusalem. Jeremiah tried to reach out to the very people that God had assured him would not listen to him. God was right and the people ignored Jeremiah and Jeremiah's God. They had fallen away and no longer knew a life of faith and trust. They needed to wander until they realized they needed to led.

Jerusalem did fall to the Babylonians and the Jews were exiled. Wealthy and influential Jews were carried away to Babylon to serve the Babylonians there. This was the beginning of one of the greatest wounds in Jewish history--the attempted destruction of a people. The Jews who were not powerful enough or influential enough were left behind in Israel to suffer under Babylonian oppression and domination. Life had changed much as Jeremiah had said it would. Yet, he had left them with the hopeful image of his purchase of the land. For some, perhaps, this served as a comforting thought that even though things had changed and God had allowed the Babylonians to conquer Jerusalem, God still cared for Israel and was still working out its salvation and redemption.

Monday, September 1, 2008

September 1 - Aaron, Prophet, Priest, Voice of Moses

Growing up, Aaron had glimpsed his mother's tears many times. She didn't necessarily know he was watching but he saw how she yearned to be near her son--his brother--Moishe. Aaron had escaped the death sentence of the Pharaoh by being just old enough not to fall under its judgment. But Moishe had been the right age and was, therefore, condemned to death. Their mother--Jochebed--secreted him away and freed him from his death sentence by secretly giving him over into the hands of those close to the Pharaoh. Moishe was far away. He was not geographically distant from his true family but, rather, he was ideologically miles away as he grew up in affluence and wealth under the care of the daughter of the Pharaoh.

They had tried to keep Aaron from finding out about brother Moishe's fate because they were worried that he might reveal their family's deep and cherished secret--one of their own sat in the lap of Mitzrayim (Egypt). It was better, they thought, that Aaron assume Moishe dead and forgotten. "Better he thinks his brother dead and gone, then know he lives but cannot be near. He will soon forget his baby brother whom he knew for such a little time" they might have rationalized. But, Aaron had found out the secret that was his inheritance and was consequently initiated into the family secret with an unworded vow of ignorance and silence. Mitzrayim could not know or it would crush Moishe's--and Aaron's--people.

Eventually, Moishe found out about his heritage and people. While traveling through the land, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and he killed the Egyptian in a fit of rage. He had made a choice that could not easily be undone. He had sided himself with the poor and oppressed even though so very few of them knew him. He fled into the desert where he would encounter God. Aaron would remain in the clutches of Mitzrayim with their people and continue to encounter the God that Moishe found only in the wilderness.
When Moishe returned, Aaron met him along the way and revealed his identity more clearly. As Moishe tried to rally the people of Israel around God's calling, Aaron stood in the gap between the people and the agent of their deliverance. Aaron became a bridge between the deliverer they never knew and the people so crushed and beaten by Mitzrayim. Aaron's trust in Moishe allowed the people to learn to trust this wandering leader. Further, Moishe insisted that Aaron was to be his "navi" or mouthpiece. Moishe wasn't known for his eloquence and, perhaps, had a stutter but God had chosen him. God had called Aaron to stand in the gap between Moishe and the world and be the prophet and mouthpiece for Moishe. Aaron lived into this calling.

Aaron was present for the ten plagues. Aaron was present for the exodus. Aaron was present for the pursuit of Israel by Pharaoh. Aaron was present for the crossing of the Red Sea. In all these things, Aaron stood in the gap between the people and Moishe. Further, he stood in the gap between a people with a vague yearning for a loving God and the loving God who reached out desperately for a people that could not and would not see God. In this way, the consecration of Aaron as a priest was a formal recognition of the calling that Aaron was already living out. He had stood before the people and pointed to God and God's movement all the while interceding for the people before the God they simultaneously sought and rejected.

Aaron's life and faith were far from perfect--he and Moishe did not always get along, his sons lose their lives by making the sacred profane, and he later built a golden calf for the people when they became fearful--but he must be remembered for standing in the gap for the people when Moishe was being called into the desert. Often, we focus on the great leadership of Moishe but it could not have been easy for Aaron to stay behind in the grip of Mitzrayim while his brother seemed to be able to escape it. Aaron did not leave his people and reminds us that God is not present solely in the wild and wonderful places but also in the places of death and oppression. Aaron--a High Priest of the Israelites--was committed to both his God and his people and held onto both even as they struggled with each other.

Aaron died many years later and his son took the role of High Priest. In his office and calling, he had served his God, his people, and his brother well and faithfully. His death was mourned for thirty day by all those who had depended upon him.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

July 20 - St. Elijah, Truth-Teller

In our world, there is no shortage of people who claim an intimate relationship with God and an innate sense of God's desires and will. Very often it seems that you don't even need to ask to receive advice from somebody about what God wants--specifically--for you to do. Regrettably, many of these people take the Lord's name in vain by granting divine authorship to personal opinion. For those who speak with power and certainty the story of Elijah can be unnerving--in a good way. For Elijah was a truth-teller and a man who knew the life-giving intimacy of the Lord God Almighty.

Elijah was born nearly 2900 years ago. He is noted as a prophet but we must be clear not to call him a fortune-teller but, rather, a truth-teller. After all, there is no room within the faith of Moishe, Eliyahu, and Yeshua for sorcery and idle predictions of the future--the future is in Adonai's hands and not a matter of concern. Instead, Adonai (God) spoke with Elijah and told him about the evil acts of the King and Queen of Israel (Ahab and Jezebel). They had forgotten Adonai and begun worshiping idols of Baal because they thought it would bring them good rain and crops. The people had tried to make life for themselves not knowing that any life they could make for themselves wouldn't stand the test of time. In a haphazard pursuit of life, they had chosen a bland mockery of life because it was easy instead of pursuing life more abundant in Adonai.

Adonai sent Elijah to teach a lesson about life to those who had abandoned it intentionally or ignorantly. Elijah came before them and told them the truth God had given to him: a drought was coming because of the rejection of Adonai. The cheap security and supposed power of Baal was being called into question by Elijah's prophecy. If the people had chosen predictability and a god they could control over life/Adonai, then they should know what they were choosing: death. And, so, in a very visceral and symbolic way the water was withdrawn from those who had withdrawn themselves from Adonai.


As the flower wilts when removed from the soil and its life-giving moisture, so also go those created by Adonai when removed from God—the ground of their being—and the spiritual sustenance of the Adonai—King of the Universe.

This truth, however, was missed by those who refused to see it. Instead of accepting their own complicity in their disconnection from Adonai, they blamed Elijah and, so, Elijah fled for his life. While fleeing from those who claimed to be the people of God, Elijah was provided for first by unclean birds and, then, by a poor widow. It is of no little importance that the prophet of Adonai was cared for not by the people who claimed such intimacy with God but, rather, by the least equipped and least likely of the world. For, you see, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not dwell only in a temple built with mortal hands—an idea that we must all relearn repeatedly.

Elijah would go on to do many other things including raise the widow's son from the dead, provide for her and her family, contest with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, flee again from the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel, hear the “still small voice” of Adonai, be assumed into the presence of Adonai on a chariot of fire, and be present for the transfiguration of Jesus the Christ. Elijah was, truly, a prophet who spoke powerful truth about the nature of our lives and connection to the Lord God Almighty. His story speaks volumes about what intimacy with God looks like: life-giving as in the raising of the widow's son, sustaining as in the provision of oil and flour for the widow's family, among the unclean as in the ministrations of the ravens to Elijah, gentle, humble, and personal as in the still-small-voice, concerned with the weak and powerless as in Elijah's community with the widow, empowered but prayerful as in the contest with the priests of Baal, dependent as in Elijah's constant need for intimacy and affirmation from Adonai, and transfiguring.

Elijah reminds us all what it looks like to tell the truth in a powerful way. Elijah reminds us all of the life-sustaining-and-redeeming power of the still-small-voice of the Lord God Almighty.