Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Den Of Lions (part 7)

When all efforts at recourse were spent, Darius was forced to relent. “So the king gave the order, and Daniel was brought and thrown into a den of lions” (Daniel 6:16a). Surely, a horrible fate. Though the Persians engaged in the practice of crucifixion, it was not of the type that was practiced by the Romans. This manner of punishment, if you will, could be considered to be the crucifixion of the day. Before being delivered over to his death, “The king consoled Daniel by saying, ‘Your God whom you continually serve will rescue you!’” (6:16b) It is so interesting that Darius, a Persian king, would say such a thing before throwing this Jewish prophet into a den of lions. Why would he say this? Was he familiar with the Psalms? Had Daniel, before that point, made reference to the twenty-second Psalm? If he had, and if this was part of the larger story of Daniel that was passed through the centuries and told even at Jesus’ day, then it makes for an even tighter analogy between Daniel and Jesus, as we consider the situation in which the one that is crying out God finds himself.

Naturally, when the Psalmist references “a roaring lion that rips its prey” (22:13a), pleads that his God will “Rescue me from the mouth of the lion” (22:21a), and speaks of “a gang of evil men” that “crowd around me,” and “like a lion they pin my hands and feet” (22:16b), the tighter connection goes beyond the simple reference to lions in this Psalm, Though this is quite the shining example of a connection between the ordeals of Daniel and Jesus, that is not the limit of the link. When Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” (22:1a), He is not merely quoting a single verse, but rather, in the rabbinic tradition, and in the tradition of the teachers of Israel, He is drawing attention to an entire narrative. Jesus wants to call to mind the entire Psalm, as well as any particular stories that are linked to that Psalm, told with reference to that Psalm, and given context by that Psalm. The story of Daniel would be one of those stories inextricably linked with this Psalm. So when the people, and especially the leaders of the people that bear the responsibility for His death, hear this cry from Jesus, they will recall the whole of the Psalm. They will consider the Psalmist’s reference to lions, and the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (so popular and well known in the day) will immediately come to mind. Jesus would be here be linking His plight with that of Daniel, making His previous references to the seventh chapter of Daniel, and His reference to the Son of Man (and by extension the beast that is doing battle against the saints of the Most High, and the Ancient of Days, and the kingdom given to the Son of Man, and the four hundred ninety year period of Daniel’s prophecy) as He stood before the High Priest, even more telling.

The words of this Psalm can easily be put into the mouths of both Daniel and Jesus. Both groaned in prayer (22:1b), cried out to God (22:2a), relied upon the promises given to Israel and its ancestors, (22:4), trusted upon God’s power to perform according to those promises (22:5), were insulted and despised by their adversaries (22:6), experienced taunting and mocking (22:7), given up to the salvation of their God as a test of His power and their truthfulness (22:8), hemmed in by the powerful (22:12), devoured with words (22:13a), set in the dust of death (22:15b), and experienced the gloating of their enemies (22:17b).

Now, returning to the issue of what it was that Darius said to Daniel, let us ask again why it was that Darius said what he said. It makes a great deal of sense that Daniel, who was being threatened with the lion’s den, would have quoted this Psalm to Darius, with Darius quite easily able to make the connection, based on our review of the Psalm to this point, between the words of the Psalm and what it was that he knew Daniel was experiencing. After the Psalmist speaks of his horrific plight, and his being set in the dust of death, and amidst lions and wild dogs, indicating that death was inescapable (the Psalmist speaking of a state of exile, in strong Israelite tradition), there comes a change of tone. After the Psalmist considers himself dead, which is indicated by the fact that “They were dividing up my clothes among themselves; they are rolling dice for my garments” (22:18), as dead men need no clothes, he speaks of deliverance. We read, “But you, O Lord, do not remain far away! You are my source of strength! Hurry and help me! Deliver me from the sword! Save my life…! Rescue me…! (using Israel’s familiar exodus language) You have answered me!” (22:19-21) It is in the wake of this that the Psalmist says, “I will declare Your Name to my countrymen! In the middle of the assembly I will praise You!” (22:22) Could this be why Darius says to Daniel, “Your God whom you continually serve will rescue you,” expecting Daniel to be preserved? If Daniel has cast himself in the role of the Psalmist, experiencing this misfortune, which would not be terribly difficult considering the nature of the ordeal (den of lions), then it is not a stretch in the least little bit to presume that Daniel made this Psalm known to Darius and to all who were responsible for this attempt on his life, as did Jesus.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Den Of Lions (part 6)

When we move on to Luke, and as we consider that which clinched the argument for Daniel’s foes (“Recall, O king…), we find the chief priests and elders making a more explicit reference to Jesus’ challenge to the power of the king. Remember, Luke reports Jesus’ foes saying that Jesus was forbidding the people to pay the tribute tax to Caesar and claiming kingship for Himself (Luke 23:1-2), which carries an implicit claim that Caesar’s rule is irrelevant. To this they added that “He incites the people by teaching throughout all Judea” (23:5a). This “inciting” of the people, in the ears of the Roman governor, would have caused him to make an inference in the area of “revolution,” which, knowing the history and expectations of these people over which he ruled, would have been quite troubling. It was at this point that Pilate sends Jesus to Herod, who returns Jesus to Pilate, with Pilate desirous of securing Jesus’ release after a flogging. The people, however, reject Pilate’s proposal. Pilate, undaunted, “addressed them once again because he wanted to release Jesus” (23:20).

At this, the shouts of the crowd begin to include an insistence to “Crucify, crucify Him!” (23:21b) Pilate reasons that crucifixion, that horrible and ignominious death that is reserved for recalcitrant slaves and openly rebellious subjects, was not something that was deserved by this Jesus, who, apart from affirming that He was the king of the Jews (with no obvious evidence to support this claim), had not entered into actions that would make it incumbent upon Pilate to pass such a sentence. So Pilate, in an exasperated plea that must be somewhat reminiscent of King Darius, says, “Why? What wrong has He done? I have found Him guilty of no crime deserving death. I will therefore flog Him and release Him” (23:22). As it was for Jesus, so it was for Daniel. Darius clearly had no desire to see Daniel suffer such a horrific punishment---being put to death in the den of lions, and Pilate had no desire to see this come upon Jesus either. He wanted this to be clear to all, so returning briefly to Matthew, as he saw that “a riot was starting, he took some water, washed his hands before the crowd and said, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood. You take care of it yourselves!’” (27:24b)

Moving on, again, to the Gospel of John, the picture here painted is even more fascinatingly interesting than that which we find in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). As we saw with Daniel, and as we saw a bit more explicitly with Luke, we find an even more poignant reference to kingly power here in John. After reading here about Pilate’s attempts to release Jesus, we hear the Jewish leaders shouting, “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar! Everyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar!” (19:12b) This represents quite an interesting turn of events. It is unlikely that Pilate has ever heard such words escape the lips of a leader of the Jews, and most especially not as a means to justify the putting to death of one of their own people.

Surely, by this point, Pilate had gathered more information about Jesus. He would have learned that He had been a teacher and a healer and a worker of miracles. He may have even now been aware of the raising of Lazarus and the crowds that had gathered to see Him (and Lazarus) when He had entered Jerusalem riding the back of a donkey, to approving shouts of acclimation from the assembled masses. Learning these things, Pilate would have to wonder to where those crowds had disappeared, as he hears the fellow countrymen of the accused---this one who had done such marvelous things for so many people---now pressing loyalty to Caesar and to his rule as grounds for death by crucifixion. Pilate would have to be perplexed by this appeal to Rome’s rule, especially when the initial shouts of “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (19:6), were accompanied by an appeal to a different basis for execution, when they said, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He claimed to be the Son of God!” (19:7) When the appeal to their own law was ineffective, they changed course and appealed to Pilate’s desire to have security in his position (“friend of Caesar”), adding an appeal to Roman law and that which was required for those who attempt to usurp Caesar’s absolute power.

This would not be lost on Pilate, and seeing that he could do nothing to change the minds of these people, and that he would be unable to secure Jesus’ release (which was odd, a Roman governor attempting to free a wonder-working Jewish holy man, but unable to do so because releasing Him to His own people would start a riot, thereby jeopardizing his own position within Rome’s power structure, as he would be seen as incapable of ruling this small province), Pilate seized on this opportunity to bring these leaders of the people in line and humiliate them because of what they were doing, and with their very own words. After hearing them speak of being a friend of Caesar and about opposition to Caesar, Pilate set the prisoner before the people and said “Look, here is your king!” (19:14b) To this assertion, the ultimate reply made by the Jewish leaders was “We have no king but Caesar!” (19:15b). An amazing turn of events indeed.

The cry of these people, for years on end---as they looked for a king in the line of David who would usher in the glorious kingdom of God, free Israel from its oppressors, and end the long night of subjection to one foreign ruler after another---had been “No king but God!” Lives had been lain down for this claim. Men and women and children had been brutally and mercilessly tortured because of this claim. Now, the very one that claimed to be their king, and to be the one for which they had been waiting, as their God had finally entered into history, once again, to act on behalf of His people and to establish His kingdom, and embodied the claim of “No king but God!” was going to be sent to a brutal torture and a merciless cross, in the echo of his people’s claim that they had “no king except Caesar!”

Den Of Lions (part 5)

Both Darius and Pilate share a common approbation, in that they diligently sought for a way to release the men that were placed in their power, with both unable to find good reason why the accused should be sent to their deaths. As was said, their efforts ultimately proved to be futile. After Darius failed to stumble upon a reasonable solution, the jealously and bloodlust of Daniel’s adversaries made itself manifest, as “those men came by collusion to the king and said to him, ‘Recall, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no edict or decree that the king issues can be changed.’” (Daniel 6:15) Yet again, the congruence of this event with that which was experienced by Jesus is striking. Bearing in mind the accusation of ignoring the king and his edicts that had been effectively leveled against both Daniel and Jesus (by their respective accusers), and therefore the creation of a dynamic which has both Daniel and Jesus positioning themselves as somehow not subject to the rule and authority of the king, we turn to Matthew and find Pilate asking Jesus “Are you the king of the Jews?” (27:11b) If Jesus was to answer in an obvious affirmative, then Pilate would have an undeniable reason to send Him to His death as a rebellious subject. A “yes” would mean that Jesus was challenging the legitimate rule of Rome, which would have been highly charged rhetoric in the Israel of Jesus’ day.

Thinking of Darius’ situation and the words of “Recall, O king…” in reference to his laws, can we not hear those men basically asking Darius, albeit with great subtlety, “So are you king or are you not the king?” Pilate, of course, stands as proxy for Rome and for the Caesar, and the question he puts to Jesus is stirred by those seeking to put Jesus to death. For all practical purposes, Jesus’ enemies have come to Pilate, as he is the representative of the power of Rome, and said, “Recall, O king, that it is a law that anyone who claims kingship, in defiance of Caesar, must be handed over to death.”

To Pilate’s query, Jesus responded, “You say so” (27:11c). This was a common way of saying “yes.” Normally, this would have been sufficient to warrant crucifixion, but under normal circumstances a man would not be standing before Pilate, with such vehement accusations being flung against him, without some type of revolutionary, blood-shedding event having been precipitated. Not only would the accused be on trial before Pilate, but there would be dead Roman soldiers, and wounded citizens, along with dead followers of the one on trial, with more of his followers also in custody, waiting to learn the fate of their leader, whose fate they would share. As far as Pilate was concerned, someone making an absolute claim to kingship would not be standing there completely alone, and in addition, that person would generally be calling down judgments upon Rome, making proclamations about his innocence as he protested the abuses of imperial power and the illegitimacy of Rome’s rule. Jesus did none of these things. He answered simply and briefly.

What made this scene all the more amazing to Pilate was that in the midst of all of this, Jesus was being “accused by the chief priests and the elders,” but “He did not respond” (27:12). Pilate, utterly perplexed by this, says “Don’t you hear how many charges they are bringing against you?” (27:13) Jesus, however, “did not answer even one accusation” (27:14a), and summing up the entirety of the situation in which he found himself, Matthew writes that “the governor was quite amazed” (27:14b). Jesus, apparently, acted in a way unlike anyone Pilate had ever encountered. In the book of Daniel we do not find a trial, and it is conspicuous by its absence. In consideration of that fact, it could be said that Daniel was as quiet and as reserved as was Jesus. Most likely, he offered no particular defense. If Darius would have asked him if the accusations that were being made against him were true, Daniel would have most likely said something like “You say so.” We can picture the scene in which the satraps and the governors and the other supervisors of the kingdom were making these accusations as Daniel stood before Darius, with Darius saying “Don’t you hear how many charges they are bringing against you?” Daniel, providing the example through the strange silence in this area, in which a trial (if there was one) goes unreported, would most likely have not answered even one accusation, so that the king would have been quite amazed.

A bit further on in Matthew, we read that Pilate “knew that they had handed Him (Jesus) over because of envy” (27:18); and we can be assured that Darius knew this to be true of those that were handing Daniel over to him. Such was grounded for an additional objection that could have been raised and pointed out by both Daniel and Jesus, but the records show that they were not. Daniel knew that the ordeal would be difficult, but he also knew that the authority of a kingdom was coming to him (because Darius wished to appoint Daniel over his entire kingdom---6:3b). Likewise, Jesus knew that the ordeal to which He was then being subjected, and which was going to get far worse in the hours to come, would be extraordinarily difficult, but that it was a path that required traversing, because the authority of a kingdom was coming to Him as well.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Den Of Lions (part 4)

After observing Daniel in his practice of continuing to pray---continuing, without fail, in the ministry to which he had been appointed by Israel’s faithful God, the men who would have Daniel done away with “approached the king and said to him, ‘Did you not an issue an edict to the effect that for the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human other than to you, O king, would be thrown into a den of lions?’” (Daniel 6:12a) This serves to remind us that, in Jesus’ day, the Roman emperor was the focal point of a large and popular religious cult, whose purpose was to provide a unifying force to a geographically far-flung, ethnically and culturally and religiously diverse empire. The Roman emperor was recognized as a divine being, which is not unlike the movement we see here in Daniel, with prayers to be directed solely to the ruler of the world empire that then held sway.

To the loaded query from his officials, “The king replied, ‘That is correct, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed.’” (6:12b) Knowing that they had driven the king down the path that they so desired, and leading him into a corner at which he would be forced to acquiesce to their scheming, the jealous officials seized upon this re-confirmation of the king’s decree and said to him, “Daniel, who is one of the captives from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the edict that you issued. Three times daily he offers his prayer” (6:13). Before drawing the analogy, we should notice that they do not simply tell the king that Daniel is ignoring the edict, but rather, they first say that Daniel pays no attention to the king. Though the second accusation as entirely true, the first was patently false.

The goings-on here now enable us to return to Jesus being brought before Pilate. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ accusers, after taking Him from His place of prayer (where, let us not forget, He prayed three times, probably facing Jerusalem), “rose up and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding us to pay tribute tax to Caesar and claiming that He Himself is Christ, a king” (23:1b-2). This sounds remarkably like the accusation that Daniel paid no attention to the king or to his edicts. Jesus was, in a sense, subverting the nation, in terms of the national aspirations towards militaristic overthrow of Rome, so this part of the accusation was true. The second part, indicating that Jesus was attempting to subvert Rome (paying no attention to the king) by forbidding the people to pay taxes, was not true.

Undoubtedly, Darius would have been surprised to hear such things about Daniel, and would have responded with some measure of incredulity. Similarly, if this were true of Jesus, Pilate, in his collusion with the temple authorities (particularly the Sadducees), would have heard something along these lines (a person claiming to be king, instructing people to not pay taxes) prior to this point. So let’s just say that Pilate regarded the accusation with a measure of incredulity as well. Things of this nature, which would require the attention of the governor, didn’t just happen overnight or occur under a rock. They build over time and eventually reach a boiling point that required intervention by Rome. If this issue with Jesus was now at the point of Roman intervention, then it stands to reason that Pilate is going to have some familiarity with the charges that are being brought against Jesus. The Gospel record paints a picture of a governor that is fully unaware of the man that is being placed before him, and the subversion of which He is being accused. To this end, the Gospel of John has these men saying, about Jesus, in response to Pilate’s question of “What accusation to you bring against this man?” (18:29b), “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you” (18:30b).

When it came to Daniel, “When the king heard about this, he was very upset and began thinking about how he might rescue Daniel. Until late afternoon he was struggling to find a way to rescue him” (6:14). This is a regular echo of the Gospel accounts. In Matthew, we find that Pilate’s “wife sent a message to him: ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man…’” (27:19b) In Luke, “Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, ‘I find no basis for an accusation against this man.’” (23:4b) Pilate would even send Jesus to King Herod, in order to see if he would intervene on behalf of Jesus. After Jesus returns from Herod, “Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers, and the people, and said to them, ‘You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. When I examined Him before you, I did not find this man guilty of anything you accused Him of doing. Neither did Herod, for he sent Him back to us. Look, He has done nothing deserving death.’” (23:13-15)

Going on to the Gospel of John, Pilate’s actions are there also reported to be quite similar to those of King Darius, as he questions Jesus and eventually says “I find no basis for an accusation against Him” (18:38b). He repeats these words (“I find no reason for an accusation against Him” – 19:4b) after having Jesus flogged, hoping that this will satisfy those who have brought Jesus before him. Again, a third time, against the protests of the chief priests, as they stirred up the crowds, Pilate says “Certainly I find no reason for an accusation against Him” (19:6b). The Gospel writer is emphatic, insisting on demonstrating that “Pilate tried to release Him” (19:12), exploring every possible option that was available to him, much like Darius struggled to find a way to rescue Daniel from the fate of the den of lions. Their efforts, of course, were to no avail.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Den Of Lions (part 3)

Daniel knew that there were lions waiting to devour him if he violated the satrap and governor induced order of the king. He, however, continued the course on which he had been set, praying openly and without shame, as he always had. Daniel continued in steadfast faithfulness to the God that had chosen him, that had used him over and over, that had preserved his life, that had raised him up to a position of power and prestige, and had put him in the place where he had much to lose by continuing to walk the path of a prayerful trust in God. If we were to read these last few lines again, could we not simply replace “Daniel” with “Jesus”?

As was said before, Daniel did not make any attempts at persuading the king to change the order or to issue a new decree. Daniel did not attempt to start a rebellion to overthrow the king and install himself as king, which he might very well have been able to do. No. Instead, he trusted in the faithful, covenant God, to provide him with salvation (deliverance, exodus), regardless of what might occur. The same can be said for our Lord Jesus. Both Daniel and Jesus would move forward with a confident reliance on promises granted. Daniel continued to travel the route on to which he had been placed by God, which had brought him to the position in which he now found himself, which had caused him to be hated, and which had caused his enemies to want to destroy him. The life of Jesus echoes in these statements, through and through.

What, specifically, was Daniel’s response? “When Daniel realized that a written decree had been issued, he entered his home, where the windows in his upper room opened toward Jerusalem. Three times daily he was kneeling and offering prayers and thanks to his God just as he had been accustomed to do previously” (6:10). From this point, the analogies and similies to Jesus present themselves in rapid fire succession. We read that Daniel prayed in the direction of Jerusalem, and that he did so three times each day. The men who stood against Daniel, and who wanted to destroy him, knew that Daniel did this, and were counting on the fact that he would continue, and that he would not hide himself in his praying, even with the issuance of the deadly decree. What can we say about Jesus in this regard? We know that His betrayal took place in the Garden of Gethsemane, which was just across the Kidron Valley, opposite the eastern walls of Jerusalem. The record of Jesus’ activity in that garden is that He went off by Himself, on three individual occasions, to pray. We can imagine that He prayed, like Daniel, facing Jerusalem, and the fact of three prayers cannot be written off as mere coincidence. In addition, just as Daniel’s opponents knew that he openly prayed in the manner that is reported, we read that “Judas, the one who betrayed Him (Jesus), knew the place too, because Jesus had met there many times with His disciples” (John 18:2).
With such knowledge in hand, “Judas obtained a squad of soldiers and some officers of the chief priests and Pharisees. They came to the orchard with lanterns and torches and weapons” (18:3). In the case of Daniel, this can be read as “Then those officials who had gone to the king came by collusion and found Daniel praying and asking for help before his God” (6:11). This stands as a stark reminder of what it was that had been Jesus’ plaintive prayer, as He prayed and asked for help in the time of testing that was coming to Him, saying “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from Me! Yet not what I will, but what you will… My Father, if this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, Your will must be done” (Matthew 26:39b, 42b). To this, some manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke add that “an angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him” (Luke 22:43), which should immediately draw our attention to the words of Daniel, in the wake of his night spent in the den of lions, that “My God sent His angel and closed the lions’ mouths so that they have not harmed me, because I was found to be innocent before Him” (6:22a). To these words, we shall pay a return visit.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Den Of Lions (part 2)

Before going any further, it needs to be said that the value in constructs such as the one we are making is that Jesus, as He diligently searched the Scriptures, pondering the ultimate validity of the method that He would employ to bring in the kingdom of God---that being suffering to vindication (exile to exodus), would have been highly instructive for Jesus. Stories such as Daniel would have provided Him with guidance, strength, and sustenance for the path that lay ahead of Him. He could trust that the God that had been the God of deliverance for a faithful Israelite such as Daniel would be the God of deliverance for Him as well.

Continuing to explore this story of Daniel, we find that “these supervisors and satraps came by collusion to the king and said to him, ‘O King Darius, live forever!’” (6:6). After this bit of customary flattery, they continued on and said, “To all the supervisors of the kingdom, the prefects, satraps, counselors, and governors it seemed like a good idea for a royal edict to be issued and an interdict to be enforced. For the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or human other than you, O king, should be thrown into a den of lions” (6:7). Finally, to this was added, “Now let the king issue a written interdict so that it cannot be altered, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be changed” (6:8). Quite understandably, “King Darius issued the written interdict” (6:9), unwittingly putting in jeopardy the life of the very one that he had intended to appoint over the entire kingdom.

Before we move forward, let’s put some flesh and blood on this story. Daniel was basically the second most powerful man in the kingdom. He knew his position, as did Jesus in all likelihood (based on the events of his life, from the prophecy of His birth, to His experience at the age of twelve in Jerusalem, to His baptism, to the miracles that attended His ministry) knew that He was God’s Messiah for Israel. Daniel would have been well aware that Darius desired to make him the ruler of the kingdom; and likewise, if Jesus knew that He was the Messiah, then He knew that He was the one that was to be appointed as King of the coming kingdom of God. Indeed, Jesus seems to be in constant awareness of what awaits Him at the end of His journey, making regular references to the betrayal and suffering and death and resurrection to which He is headed.

The picture of Jesus that is presented in the Gospels is one in which He has a complete mastery over all that eventually happens to Him at the hands of His adversaries, especially as He lays down His life willingly. So it was with Daniel. He exudes an aura of measured control. In addition, he was by no means a political novice, having dealt quite well with the great King Nebuchadnezzar, gaining power and prestige in Babylon. Both Daniel and Jesus were astute observers, well engaged with the machinations of the political machines of their days. There is very little chance that Daniel was unaware of what was happening, just as Jesus knew what was going on behind the scenes, in the corridors of power, owing to His miracles and His proclamation of the kingdom of God, with its inclusion of all and sundry.
Daniel, in his position, could easily have stepped in and protested the decree that had been proposed, and probably kept it from being made, just as Jesus, when He is arrested in the garden, speaks of being able to call upon more than twelve legions of angels to protect Him if that was His desire. It is easy to imagine that, with his influence and his power, that Daniel could have commanded the loyalty and affection of some of the leaders of the king’s army, attempted a coup, started a revolution, and done any number of things, in his flesh, in an attempt to save himself from the repercussions of a decree that was obviously directed at him. Neither Daniel nor Jesus chose such a route. Instead, Daniel, just as he had determined to do from the time he reached Babylon, was going to put God on display, and more importantly, put the covenant faithfulness of God to rescue His people, on display for all to see. This too was Jesus’ goal, as He knew that God was going to fulfill His covenant for the world (made with Abraham), through Him and through His death and Resurrection.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Den Of Lions (part 1)

It seemed like a good idea to Darius to appoint over the kingdom one hundred twenty satraps who would be in charge of the entire kingdom. Over them would be three supervisors, one of whom was Daniel. – Daniel 6:1-2a (NET)

Daniel is given a tremendous responsibility. It is written that “These satraps were accountable to them,” meaning the three supervisors, “so that the king’s interests might not incur damage” (6:2b). These words allow us to make a consideration of the role of Jesus, to the end that His (God’s) interests, that being the salvation of a people and the restoration of His creation, might not incur damage. Others had been sent into the world for this very purpose. In fact, Jesus was essentially the third of three “supervisors” that had been appointed to this purpose, with the first being Adam, and the second being Israel. As we make this analogous comparison between Daniel and Jesus here in association with the story of Daniel and the lion’s den, and taking the extremely wide, cosmic view entailed by connecting the two men together, we can go on to think about the one hundred twenty satraps, which is a technical term for an official in charge of a region of the empire, as the steady stream of patriarchs, judges, kings, and prophets that had been either chosen or raised up by God to be partially responsible for protecting the King’s interests from incurring damage.

With regard to Daniel, we go on to read that he “was distinguishing himself above the other supervisors and satraps, for he had an extraordinary spirit” (6:3). It is not difficult to transfer and make the application of these words to Jesus, as we recall the event of His baptism, when “a voice came from heaven,” saying, “You are My one dear Son; in you I take great delight” (Mark 1:11). To this utterance, Matthew would add that the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus and came upon Him (Matthew 3:16). Certainly, it could be said that, owing to this descent of the Holy Spirit, Jesus had an extraordinary spirit, enabling Him to distinguish Himself above Adam and Israel and all of the prophets and holy men of God that had come before Him.

Of Daniel, it is said that “in fact, the king intended to appoint him over the entire kingdom” (6:3b). This would be no less true of Jesus, as God’s intention was to appoint His Messiah, that being Jesus, over the entirety of the kingdom that He Himself was establishing on the earth, as He (Israel’s God) personally embodied the Messiah so as to act in history to inaugurate this kingdom.

Clearly, Daniel had great favor with the king, as did Jesus. As a result, “the supervisors and satraps were trying to find some pretext against Daniel in connection with administrative matters” (6:4a). On the local (not cosmic) level, because Daniel’s position of authority, along with the will of the king is being challenged, we now view these supervisors and satraps as the chief priests, elders, scribes, and rulers with whom Jesus found himself in conflict. Just as there was a movement against Daniel, in the area of “administrative matters,” so too was there a movement against Jesus. Here, without taking the time and space to go into specifics, we call to mind the numerous attempts that were made to challenge Jesus and His teaching, along with the questioning of His authority to do and say the things that He was doing and saying.

When it came to Daniel, “they were unable to find any such damaging evidence, because he was trustworthy and guilty of no negligence or corruption” (6:4b). True of Daniel, so true of Jesus as well. Though we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, one only need consider the witnesses at the “trial” of Jesus, who attempted to bring forth condemning accusations and testimony, but ultimately, found their attempts at doing so unsuccessful. Plans were hatched and attempts were made to get Jesus to speak against the Temple, or against the Roman government, or against the Mosaic Law, but all proved futile. Indeed, Jesus was trustworthy, and was guilty of no negligence or corruption by which he could be challenged or damaged in any way.
Having failed to gather any credible evidence against Daniel, “these men concluded, ‘We won’t find any pretext against this man Daniel unless it is in connection with the law of his God.’” (6:5) Ultimately, this would be the path traveled in the plot to take down Jesus, with the accusation of blasphemy against God, as Jesus would be said to have made Himself equal with God, and would thereby be subject to the attendant demand for death associated with a conviction related to that charge. However, those that sought to bring death to Jesus were not in a position to carry out that death penalty, so a case had to be made to those who could do so. To that end, Jesus was taken before Pilate.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Golden Calf (part 2 of 2)

Why are these statements from Balaam helpful in the shedding of light upon, and in coming to terms with the anger of God demonstrated at Mount Sinai? It may have to do with his speaking of Israel as having the strength of a wild or young bull. It must be of some interest that Balaam uses such language in reference to Israel. Why does he refer to Israel, on two occasions, in connection with a bull? Is it possible that this has something to do with Israel’s self-perception? Did Israel think of itself in such terms? Did it see itself as a bull? Was this well known in that day? Was it well known to a man like Balaam? If so, and as has been previously said, this is a tenuous proposition, it may help us to better understand the righteous indignation to which God rises when Israel fashions the image of the golden calf.

If Israel sees itself as a bull, then the fashioning of a calf, overlaying it with gold, and proclaiming “These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt” (Exodus 32:8b), is a precise recapitulation of the sin of Adam in the garden. In the garden account of Genesis, Adam is created in the image of God. He is brought forth as a bearer of the divine image. He is given a series of responsibilities along with a command he “must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17a). This command was given the ominous appendix of “for when you eat from it you will surely die” (2:17b). Of course, we are quite familiar with the events that transpired in the wake of the command, which was that the fruit of the tree was taken and eaten, upon the false promise of the serpent “that when you eat from it your eyes will be open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil” (3:5b).

In essence, it was not enough that Adam had been made in the image of God and sent forth into God’s world as the divine-image bearer who was to steward the creation and to reflect the glory of God into the world as a reminder to the creation of its Creator, but Adam actually wanted to be God, and so succumbed to the temptation. The result, of course, was death, just as the faithful, covenant God had promised, telling Adam that he would “return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (3:19b). This was obviously quite contrary to God’s plan for Adam and for the world, which also received its cursing of death at the same time. The bottom line is that Adam expressed a desire to worship the created being. What followed was chaos, which is well-attested in the historical record from the fourth to eleventh chapters of Genesis, until God set His covenant with Abraham, and began His mission to set His world right.

This is the pattern that we see at Sinai, if, as has been said, it is the case that Israel had self-considerations along the lines of a bull or an ox. If this is so, then their fashioning of the golden calf is to be paralleled with Adam’s eating of the forbidden fruit, for it signals that Israel simply had a desire to worship themselves. The words that the Lord reports to Moses are instructive, for when God reports that Israel has said that it is the calf which brought them up from the land of Egypt, then what we are hearing is that they have speedily forgotten the powerful workings of their God, and have begun to credit their deliverance to their own power, or possibly to their own deserving of liberation in light of the years of suffering.

Like Adam, Israel had been brought into existence as a nation for the purpose of being the image-bearers of the God of creation, to reflect the light of His glory into the world, to multiply in the land (think of the directive given to Adam), and to steward the very first part of the creation that God was going to redeem and restore, which was the land that had been promised to the descendants of Abraham. Where Adam had failed, it appeared that Israel was already failing. The making of the golden calf, and the worship that went with it, is congruent to the eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as Israel attempted to elevate itself into the realm of God. Just as the punishment for Adam was to be death, so it was going to be the same for Israel, as God moved out to destroy them, and would surely have done so had not Moses intervened, reminding the Lord of His covenant promises that are the basis for His faithful acts. It makes perfect sense for God to want to respond in such a way. When Adam, the first son of God, and the first to receive a covenant, failed and fell, corruption and death and wickedness and destruction and outright rebellion against God’s purposes and plans is what followed. So when Israel, the second son of God, and recipients of covenant, failed and fell, we can imagine that God foresaw the same types of events unfolding, and so planned to take it upon Himself to quickly move against this son, and eradicate the problem.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Golden Calf (part 1)

The Lord spoke to Moses: “Go quickly, descend, because your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way that I commanded them---they have made for themselves a molten calf and have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.’” – Exodus 32:7-8 NET

Without question, this was a problem. As if it is not bad enough that God has taken to referring to Israel as “Moses’ people,” rather than His own people (your people, whom you brought up…), the Lord goes on to say, “I have seen this people. Look what a stiff-necked people they are! So now, leave Me alone so that My anger can burn against them and I can destroy them, and I will make from you a great nation” (32:9-10). To this, Moses responded with intercession on behalf of the people of God, appealing to His faithfulness to the covenant that was begun with Abraham, and by extension, to His faithfulness to carry out, through Israel, His intended purposes of the blessing of all peoples and the creation through this particular people. So the Lord relents.

So why was God’s response so harsh? Why did He threaten to destroy Israel for this transgression? Was it simply because of the timing? Was God extra-exasperated with His people, seeing as how He had just delivered them from Egypt, brought them across parted waters, destroyed an army on their behalf, provided them food and water by miraculous means, and given them a law that said that they were specifically not to make any graven images or worship any other gods (though they had apparently not yet received the law from the hand of Moses at this point)? Is that the reason for the strong reaction? Undoubtedly, these were contributing factors, but it seems possible that there was something more.

To make an attempt at an exploration of that “something more,” we turn to the book of Numbers, where we meet up with a prophet by the name of Balaam. Balaam, of course, is most famous for the incident involving the talking donkey, but there is more to his story, with a possible, though tenuous connection that will enable us to better understand God’s altogether dire response to Israel’s worship of a golden calf. To provide some background to the story of Balaam, we find Israel camped in the plains of Moab (Numbers 22:1). Balak, the king of Moab, along with the Moabites, is fearful of Israel, so he sends messengers to Balaam, who is obviously a well-respected prophet (who consistently invokes the name of “The Lord,” which is the Name by which Israel knows their God), and says to him: “Look, a nation has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are settling next to me. So now, please come and curse this nation for me, for they are too powerful for me. Perhaps I will prevail so that we may conquer them and drive them out of this land. For I know that whoever you bless is blessed, and whoever you curse is cursed” (22:5b-6). Though it is unrelated to this study, it is interesting that Balak uses language similar to the Abrahamic covenant (Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse, and all the families of the earth will bless one another by your name-Genesis 12:2-3), in his communication to Balaam. This should not come as a complete surprise, as the Moabites were the descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, would have been well aware of the Abrahamic covenant, might very well have thought themselves to have had something of a share in that covenant, and so use language that potentially expresses a claim on that covenant.

At first, Balaam refuses to come to Balak, God having said to him, utilizing similar covenant-oriented language, “You must not go with them; you must not curse the people, for they are blessed” (22:12). Eventually, having been continually pressed by Balak’s servants, Balaam receives a different word from the Lord, and agrees to go with them, though he does not agree to curse Israel. Rather, upon meeting up with Balak, he agrees that “whatever He (the Lord) reveals to me I will tell you” (23:3b). We will not review the entirety of what Balaam had to say about Israel, but rather focus on two statements from this second and third (of four) of his prophecies. In the course of the second prophecy, Balaam said of Israel that “God brought them out of Egypt. They have, as it were, the strength of a wild bull” (23:22). In the course of the third, he repeats this and says, “God brought them out of Egypt. They have, as it were, the strength of a young bull” (24:8a). These two pronouncements may help to shed some light on God’s volatile and angry response to the golden calf at Mount Sinai.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 71)

Having gone to such great lengths to identify himself with Israel, and having taken such great pains to effectively insert himself into the public consciousness of the narrative of Israel’s defining event, David then makes quite a bold leap. We take note of this leap in the context of what it was that would have been crossing the minds of the hearers and readers of this song, in the wake of what has already been said.

By way of review, we now remember that David has called to mind the God of the exodus (2 Samuel 22:2-3). He has spoken of calling to the Lord, as did Israel in Egypt, with the congruent hearing and deliverance that followed (22:4). With the language of death and distress, and yet another plaintive calling (22:5-7), he has reiterated his recognition of the God of the exodus, just as we saw the multiplied references to God hearing His people in Exodus. By referencing the heaving and shaking of the earth, the trembling of the sky, the Lord’s anger, smoke and fire, and fiery coals (22:8-9), he has effectively brought the plagues to remembrance. Mention of the descent of the sky and clouds at the feet of the Lord (22:10) have called Mount Sinai to memory. Talk of wings (22:11) reminds the people of the Lord’s carrying Israel out of Egypt as if on the wings of an eagle and bringing them to His mountain (Exodus 19:4), which was spoken by the Lord, to Moses, at Mount Sinai. A reference to clouds and brightness and fire (22:12-13) produces memories of being closed in at the edge of the sea, with Egypt’s army ready to attack. Then, of course, David speaks of the parting of the waters in the face of certain annihilation, when he speaks of the depths of the sea being exposed and the inner regions of the world being uncovered by the breath of the Almighty (22:16).

Having roused the nationalistic passions of those that would be exposed to this song, we then saw that David took the step of identifying himself with Israel, and as Israel, in his personal experience of God’s power, by a direct insertion of himself (so to speak) into the sea that had been opened up for God’s people to cross (22:17-19). It is following this that we meet up with David’s bold leap. Because David has recounted Israel’s experience in Egypt, the crying out, the plagues, the physical exodus, the cloud and the fire, the dry-ground crossing, the destruction of Egypt’s army, the deliverance towards the promised land, God’s presence at Sinai, and God’s personal act of delivering His people to Sinai (eagle’s wings), the very next thing that is going to be crossing the mind of the people is the Lord’s giving of the Ten Commandments, along with the incident of the golden calf. It seems to be relatively clear that David has this in mind; and bearing in mind that he has positioned himself as Israel (he may have been helped along in thinking this way because he too has a special covenant with God), he goes on to say, “The Lord repaid me for my godly deeds; He rewarded me for my blameless behavior. For I have obeyed the Lord’s commands; I have not rebelled against my God. For I am aware of all His regulations, and I do not reject His rules. I was blameless before Him; I kept myself from sinning. The Lord rewarded me for my godly deeds; He took notice of my blameless behavior. You prove to be loyal to one who is faithful; You prove to be trustworthy to one who is innocent” (22:21-26).

Is this not bold? As we consider the natural train of thought that would have been expected based on what had led up to this point, this is quite the surprising turn of events, requiring quite a bit of mental contortions on the part of the hearer or reader. This is especially so if David has indeed made the effort to identify himself as Israel. With these words, David makes a clean break with Israelite history, setting up a surprising contrast and pattern of thoughts with which he desired to be associated. Most assuredly, this was not to be said of Israel in the context of the historical narrative that David has been offering in the course of his song. According to the historical narrative, it is precisely at this point that Israel stepped back from godly deeds and entered into behavior that was far from blameless, disregarding the Lord’s commands and rebelling against their God and against Moses. In all honesty, with the rubric of identification employed to this point, David should have here recounted his many failures, entering into self-abasement, rather than traveling the path of self-honor. The situation with the golden calf is a clear instance of a rejection of the Lord’s regulations and rules for His covenant people, and represented the pinnacle of sin into which they could fall. It was a display of paramount disloyalty and unfaithfulness, and from the Lord’s reaction, which was a desire to destroy the people and make a new people out of Moses (Exodus 32:10), they stood at a great distance from a state of innocence. So this is bold indeed, for knowing what we know about David, such words should have been far from his lips, and such thoughts should have been far from his mind.

With these words of godliness, blamelessness, consummate faith and innocence, David is actually rehearsing what it was that God had intended for and desired from His people, though he himself fell far short of this goal. Naturally, there is only one individual that could truly and rightly speak these words as the embodiment of Israel. This self-description would be taken up by the one known as the “Son of David,” who would also be the physical embodiment of Israel’s God, when He would take it upon Himself to do for the world, through Jesus (the representative of Israel) what had been purposed first for Adam, for Abraham, and then for Israel. Ultimately, He would carry out that purpose and mission through His manifestation, by the Spirit, through His church that would be assembled and sent into the world through the power of the Gospel.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 70)

David now goes on to say “He reached down from above and grabbed me; He pulled me from the surging water” (2 Samuel 22:17). Is this not what God did for His people Israel? David continues: “He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hate me, for they were too strong for me” (22:18). This too is what God had done for Israel, in rescuing them from Egypt, and effectively overthrowing their empire with the waters that had represented His love and mercy for Israel. Undoubtedly, Egypt was not going to be overcome by any attempts towards such ends by Israel, for Egypt was far too strong. Ironically, much of their strength was owing to what the God of Israel had done for Egypt through Joseph, though this had been long since forgotten.

To what might David have been referring when he uses these words? To a lion, to a bear, to a giant, to a king, to a son, to a general? It could be any or all of these things, as David says “They confronted me in my day of calamity, but the Lord helped me” (22:19). As we have taken a good deal of time examining David’s life, we are not stretching the truth if we are to posit that his life moved from one calamity to the next, a fair number of which (but not all) he brought upon himself. This cannot be said of Israel in Egypt, as the Scriptures do not give us any indication that the calamity of their oppression in Egypt was something that they had secured through their own doings. Rather, what we do know about Israel’s sojourn in Egypt is that it was a part of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, that would prove His covenantal faithfulness to those who knew themselves to be descendants of Abraham. However the calamitous circumstances came about, there would be no doubt that the latter part of Israel’s Egyptian experience, along with the initial portions of its exodus experience, could be reckoned by both David and the people to be situations of calamity in which the Lord must intervene in order for there to be a positive outcome.

After speaking of his calamity, David goes on to say, “He brought me out into a wide open place; He delivered me because He was pleased with me” (22:20). This too, God did for Israel, and it could be applied and understood in multiple ways, though it, in context, is most likely still making reference to the crossing of the sea on dry land. God brought His people through the waters of calamity, rescuing them from their quite strong enemy, bringing them through the narrow passage walled by waters to their left and right (here, we can make an allusion to the “valley of the shadow of death” in the twenty-third Psalm), and setting their feet on solid ground on the other side of the sea, with the long-awaited promise of their inheritance of land set before them. Moses would say “By Your loyal love You will lead the people whom You have redeemed; You will guide them by Your strength to Your holy dwelling place… You will bring them in and plant them in the mountain of your inheritance, in the place You made for your residence, O Lord, the sanctuary, O Lord, that Your hands have established” (Exodus 15:13,17). With boldness, David declares that the salvations (exodus, redemption, deliverance, rescue) that he had experienced, and which he attributed to the powerful hand of the Lord working on his behalf, was evidence that the Lord was pleased with him. We do not find the same thing being said of Israel in Egypt, though we do hear God instructing Moses to inform Israel that “I am the Lord. I will bring you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians, I will rescue you from the hard labor they impose, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you to Myself for a people, and I will be your God. They you will know that I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out from your enslavement to the Egyptians” (6:6-7). Clearly, God was redeeming a people whose purpose was His pleasing.

So what we see happening here, as we have carefully reviewed the exodus event in connection with David’s song, is David’s attempted undertaking of the embodiment of Israel. Not only is he placing his story within, and intimately connecting it to Israel’s history, but he is also attempting to define himself as Israel. With these words, David, along with the author, wants the people to identify his trials with nothing less than what Israel had experienced in Egypt and in their coming out of Egypt. It is quite the piece of propaganda, indicating that David has learned well from his experiences. David, quite clearly, wants the people to see him as a Moses figure, which we saw had been successfully undertaken by Absalom. If the people did, in fact, identify David with Israel, and his overcoming of calamities with the same power that God had put on display on behalf of Israel, against Egypt, then just as Israel “feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31b), then so too would they believe in him. By this, David would be elevated alongside Moses as the greatest figure in the history of the nation.

This embodying of Israel, by their king, in which he becomes their representative before the Lord, will carry significant weight in determining God’s future dealings with his nation. It would also come to be quite crucial in Jesus’ own understanding of Himself and His role as Israel’s king, as we can certainly justly see Jesus seizing upon these words of David’s song that we have reviewed, as well as those to come. Just as Adam, the first king of humanity, was representative of all humanity, so now David explicitly positions himself as the representative of the people that saw themselves as God’s new humanity, who were being charged (in the line and light of the Abrahamic covenant) to represent the Creator God and to bless all nations accordingly by reflecting the light of His glory into the world. Jesus will adequatel take both of these roles upon Himself, representing Israel and all of humanity before the cross, and representing the new humanity (the people of the kingdom of God which points to the renewed and restored creation) following the Resurrection.

Friday, August 20, 2010

On The Anniversary Of My Father's Death

One year ago today, my father passed away. So today, I wanted to take the opportunity to share the message that I delivered at my father’s funeral.

In Proverbs 10:1 we find it said that, “A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.” Now, I don’t know if I can be called wise, though many have told me over the last few days that my father was very proud of me and my brother. I am confident, however, that I have done many foolish things that have brought sorrow to my mother. So mom, I’m sorry.

If, in fact, there is anything in my life that made my father glad, and thus demonstrated any measure of wisdom (which I hope and pray is the case), I know that it is for one reason only. That reason is to be found in the book of Isaiah, chapter thirty-eight, verse nineteen, which says, “The father makes known to the children Your faithfulness.” More than anything else, my father made known to me, and I’m sure to most all of you as well, God’s unending faithfulness. In that same verse, Isaiah wrote, “The living, the living, he thanks You, as I do this day.” So even though I know that we are here to mourn, to grieve, and to honor, more importantly, we are all here to say “thank you” to this man, Jonathan Byrd; and most importantly, to say “thank you” to the Savior, Jesus Christ, Whom he served.

Though we are rightfully saddened at this time of loss, and though we have been understandably perplexed as to why he was allowed to linger in his disability for nearly five years, when all he wanted was to, as he put it so many times, “receive his promotion,” we now rejoice in the fact that our Lord finally and faithfully brought His servant home to Himself, that his promotion came through, and that his earthly sojourn has been brought to a blessed end. Because that blessed end was followed immediately by a glorious beginning, we are able to quote the words of the Apostle Paul, in which he says, “Give thanks in all things, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). To God be the glory, great things He has done.

I was at the airport in Beijing, China, on my way to Singapore, when I received the news from my mom. I’m sure that I don’t have to explain the wave of emotions that was experienced in that moment. There was surprise at the fact that it came without warning, relief that the suffering and pain was finally over, thankfulness for the perfect peace and healing that had now been granted to him, and naturally, a deep sadness.

Then, two things happened. My Bible was open on the table in front of me, so scanning the page, my eyes came to Matthew 12:18, which reads, “Behold, My servant whom I have chosen, My beloved with whom My soul is well pleased.” Though I never, not for one second, doubted that my dad had entered into an eternity with His Lord, that verse immediately became a source of great comfort for me.
Second, I immediately thought about a man named M.A. Thomas. Dr. M.A. Thomas, the founder of Hopegivers International, was one of my father’s most dear friends. His ministry was, above all other ministries with which my father worked and supported, the one that was closest to dad’s heart. Though he gave millions throughout his lifetime, to so many ministries, and though he raised money for ministries, in amounts that, when totaled together, runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars, there was no single work to which he gave more, than the ministry of Hopegivers. I thought about Dr. Thomas, because when he would phone my father, or anyone else for that matter, he would always greet that person by saying, “Yes, my brother.” Sometimes, my dad would answer the phone, and Dr. Thomas would say, “O my brother. I have such glorious news!” When those words were spoken, my dad would cry, because he knew that Dr. Thomas was about to tell him that one of his preachers boys, in India, had been martyred, laying down his life for the sake of the Gospel. So as my mother spoke to me the words of my father’s passing, I heard the voice of Dr. Thomas, saying, “O my brother. I have such glorious news!”

Dad would not only give to ministries, and he would not only help raise money for ministries, but he would also give of his time to speak at events, large and small, in support of those works that he wanted to support. When he would do so, he would almost invariably reference the Apostle Paul’s letter to Titus. He would tell those who had gathered together that in chapter three of Titus, beginning in the third verse, we find this said: “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasure, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.”
Now, doesn’t that seem like a good way to start a fundraiser? Then he would add, in spite of all those things, that Paul went on to write, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (3:4-7).

From there, he would add the next verse, which says, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people” (3:8). I would ask that, if you truly desire to honor my father, his memory, and his influence in your lives, that you would prayerfully consider devoting yourself to this particular good work. Whenever my father would gather together a group of people, inevitably, he would talk about Hopegivers (www.hopegivers.org), and attempt to convince as many people as possible to support an orphan child that would be raised up to become a preacher. As dad has gathered all of us together this final time, I would be remiss if I did not do the same.

Yesterday, as I had the privilege of speaking to so many people that knew my dad, I heard about the influence that he had in their lives. I heard about so many things that he had taught them. To each of you that have been taught by my dad, I would like to add some words that the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith. He wrote, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2:1-3).
Why do I speak of suffering? I do so because of dad’s physical condition even before the stroke. I don’t know how many of you know this, but for most of his life, even from his teenage days, dad had bad feet, bad knees, bad hips, and a bad back One leg was shorter than the other, and he actually walked with a limp, which he disguised very well. Most of these things were due to a degenerative spinal condition, which he had from birth. To these things, you can add chronic high blood pressure, from his teenage years, along with an early onset of arthritis.

Yes, my father lived a very blessed life, but it was tempered by a great deal of physical pain which, believe it or not, actually limited him from doing all of the things that he wanted to do. I’m sure that, well before the stroke and its complications that disabled him for these last five years, he often wondered why such pain was to be his lot in life, especially considering his service to the Lord. I am sure that he found comfort from the Apostle Paul, as he wrote to Timothy, saying, “share in suffering for the Gospel by the power of God, Who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace, which He gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:8b-9). Frankly, all of the pain and all of the problems simply didn’t matter, because dad knew that he had been saved and called to a holy calling.

Over the last five years, because of all of the businesses in which our family is involved, many important decisions have had to be made. These decisions were the type that dad always seemed to make so effortlessly, though we always knew that there was great effort, thought, and prayer involved. Now, for the most part, these decisions ultimately fell to my mom. Because dad was the dynamic and powerful leader of our family, and because that leader was no longer there to lead, mom took great encouragement from the words of Joshua 1:2, which says, “Moses, My servant, is dead. Now therefore arise, go…”
Though dad was not dead, the man that we knew was gone, and there was still work to be done. God went on to tell Joshua that “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (1:5). God would later add, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (1:9).

I bring this up because I thought it was so appropriate, as it relates to the night that dad died. It was a day like any other, an evening like any other. A very routine day at mom and dad’s house. When God took dad’s breath away, mom was making his dinner. As I thought about that, I thought, what a wonderful metaphor for these last five years of mom’s life. She was making his dinner. She was serving him and caring for him, not only until the very end, but literally, that’s what she was doing when the end finally came. So mom was in the kitchen, getting his dinner ready. As is usually the case, when mom went to get dinner ready, dad indicated that he was going to take a nap. When he woke up from that nap, he was with Jesus. I can’t even imagine what a glorious awakening that was. But this was mom’s prayer. Her prayer to God had been, that when He finally saw fit to take dad, that He would do so at home, at peace, while he was sleeping.

Now, this is why I think that mom’s regular references to Moses are so appropriate. As we read through the book of Deuteronomy, we are not specifically told how Moses died. However, the Hebrew language, in which Deuteronomy was written, is a picture language. Each letter is an illustration, and taken together, the letters of the words form a picture that underlies the words of the text. So when we read, we simply read that Moses died; but the picture that is painted by the language tells us that “God leaned down over the balcony of heaven, that He kissed Moses on the cheek, and Moses fell asleep.” That’s how God took our Moses as well. Well before he was taken, however, God said to Moses, in the eleventh chapter of Numbers, “And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not have to bear it yourself alone” (11:17b).

As I close, I want to leave you with some final words of the Apostle Paul. He wrote, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). As we reflect on that, we do not mourn like those who have no hope, but we rejoice with my father. We celebrate his life today. Why do we celebrate? Why do we carry such a hope? There is one reason, and one reason only, which is something that my dad said never ceased to amaze him. The reason for our hope is that Jesus Christ is still the hope of the world.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 69)

In the very next verse, we go on to read “He shot arrows and scattered them, lightning and routed them” (2 Samuel 22:15), which could serve as an allusion to the movement of the pillar of cloud that served as a shield between Israel and Egypt. We find written in Exodus that “The angel of God, who was going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. It came between the Egyptian camp and the Israelite camp; it was a dark cloud and it lit up the night so that one camp did not come near the other the whole night” (14:19-20). This, of course, took place as “the Lord drove the sea apart by a strong east wind all that night, and He made the sea into dry land, and the water was divided” (14:21b). Here, we note that this is how the Scriptures describe the division of the sea, rather than our commonly-held misperception (however grand the vision may be) that there was an immediate dividing of the waters as “Moses stretched out his hand toward the sea” (14:21a). With this said, we might rightly wonder if Moses had to keep his hand stretched “all that night,” in a way much like the story of Moses’ raised hands when Israel did battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:8-16).

What follows from David’s mention of arrows and lightning? He says, “The depths of the sea were exposed; the inner regions of the world were uncovered by the Lord’s battle cry, by the powerful breath of His nose” (22:16). By speaking of the event of the parting of the waters, David has now ingeniously latched on to the single most demonstrative of the saving acts of the God of Israel. In all honesty, who had ever heard of such a thing? A known human being might as well have died and resurrected to physical life! Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, there are numerous direct references to God’s parting of the sea, so we can be assured that it was looked upon, in the common consciousness of God’s people, as a seminal event in the courses of the histories of both Israel and the world. Any reference to the Lord’s deliverance from Egypt would certainly bring to mind the crossing of the sea and the resulting defeat of the Egyptian army. How is that defeat described? It is written that “The Israelites went through the middle of the sea on dry ground, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left” (14:22). Again, this was after it had been pushed back by a strong east wind “all night.” Seeing this, “The Egyptians,” perhaps observing this as something of a natural phenomenon, in an apparent forgetfulness of the plagues that they had experienced, “chased them and followed them into the middle of the sea” (14:23a).

Some period of time after the Egyptians began giving chase, “In the morning watch the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army through the pillar of fire and cloud, and He threw the Egyptian army into a panic. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving, and the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s flee from Israel, for the Lord fights for them against Egypt!’” (14:24-25) However, before the army could complete their flight, having received instruction from the Lord, “Moses extended his hand toward the sea, and the sea returned to its normal state when the sun began to rise. Now the Egyptians were fleeing before it,” with “it” being the water retreating back to its normal place, “but the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the middle of the sea… not so much as one of them survived” (14:27,28b).

Following that we are reminded that “the Israelites walked on dry ground in the middle of the sea, the water forming a wall for them on their right and on their left” (14:29). The repetition of this material about the dry ground and the walls of water serves to demonstrate just how powerful this act of God on behalf of His people was to be understood, both then and for all time. This leads into language that describes an exodus within an exodus, as we then read “So the Lord saved Israel on that day from the power of the Egyptians” (14:30a). Israel was granted salvation in the midst of their salvation. This would happen numerous times in their history, indicating to them and to us that a life of exodus is what God provides to His people and expects from His people, as they consistently acknowledge His saving power. This is precisely what would then happen in Exodus, as “When Israel saw the great power that the Lord had exercised over the Egyptians, they feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in His servant Moses” (14:31).

Now, why, in the midst of looking at the song of David in the second book of Samuel, even bearing in mind that we have gone to some length to demonstrate David’s desire to connect himself with Israel’s exodus story, have we taken up so much time and space by this inclusion of so much material directly from the fourteenth chapter of Exodus? Well, it has to do with the verse just referenced, and with what comes next for David, as we reach the seventeenth verse in the chapter of the song of David.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 68)

Having laid the groundwork for an exodus-oriented understanding of David’s song, with the looming specter of exile that stands behind his acknowledgment of the Lord as his deliverer, refuge, savior, and rescuer from enemies, we can continue our movement through the song to demonstrate more explicitly the reliance upon the theme. We have already seen the allusion to the second chapter of Exodus in his call to the Lord of verse four, and with that, we note that throughout the book of Judges, we saw Israel groaning out and crying and calling to the Lord when they find themselves mired in the exile of foreign oppression.

It would not be overdoing it for David to continue to call attention to the God of exodus, as he says “In my distress I called to the Lord; I called to my God” (2 Samuel 22:7a), as this is a recurring theme in Exodus itself. When we read Exodus, we are consistently referred back to the Israelite groaning, as we read that the Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land… And now indeed the cry of the Israelites has come to Me” (3:7-8a,9a). Further on in Exodus, we hear the Lord speaking again and saying, “I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered My covenant” (6:5).

Just as Israel groaned under oppressors and cried out to God under the knowledge of His covenant with them, so too did David. When David cries out in praise, referencing enemies, death, chaos, and distress, he does so under the knowledge that the same God that delivered Israel from Egypt and eventually made him king of Israel, has made a covenant with him. David can rely upon and trust in that covenant because, again, that God of covenant was and is the God of exodus; and if that God can deliver an entire nation, and raise them up as His people to be a light to the nations (no matter how far short of this ideal they fell), then that God can certainly perform according to His promises to David.

As we saw where the Lord spoke to Moses on two different occasions and spoke of having heard the cry of His people, so we hear David, in reference to his own calling upon the Lord out of his distress, saying “From His heavenly temple He heard my voice; He listened to my cry for help” (22:7b). What happened in Egypt when Israel cried out in their distress and the Lord heard? He responded with an awesome display of the power of His outstretched hand. Egypt and Israel saw water turned to blood, frogs covering the ground, gnats on man and beast, the descent of flies, disease on livestock, affliction with boils, the destructive power of locusts, the falling of hail and fire, the land shrouded in darkness, and the death of Egypt’s firstborn. What did David see as the Lord’s response to his own call? How did David describe the result of his God listening to his cry for help? He would say, “The earth heaved and shook; the foundations of the sky trembled. They heaved because He was angry. Smoke ascended from His nose; fire devoured as it came from His mouth; He hurled down fiery coals” (22:8-9). Yes, David called upon the God of Israel’s deliverance, claiming Him as the God of His own deliverance as well. We are certainly able to imagine that, if David has successfully brought Israel’s God of exodus to mind with his words to this point, when he speaks of the shaking of heaven and earth, the trembling of the sky, smoke and fire and fiery coals, thoughts of the plagues upon Egypt would not be too terribly distant.

If thoughts of the plagues of Egypt were close-at-hand, then so too would be thoughts of what resulted from those plagues, which was Israel’s liberation. What was it that accompanied that liberation that saw Israel marching out of Egypt? Of course, it was the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, to which we are first introduced in the fourteenth chapter of Exodus, at the Red Sea. The record of Israel’s victory (and Egypt’s defeat) at the Red Sea would be immediately followed by a song of triumph in the fifteenth chapter of Exodus. David’s song, in the second book of Samuel, heavily mirrors the song that was sung by Moses and the Israelites, and would, quite naturally, because of the explicit connections to the exodus that are being made by David, call to mind the song of Exodus and the events that both preceded and followed from the song.
It would be shortly following the deliverance at the Red Sea that Israel would come to Mount Sinai. We read that the Lord’s presence on Sinai was signaled by “thunder and lightning and a dense cloud on the mountain,” and that “Mount Sinai was completely covered with smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire, and its smoke went up like the smoke of a great furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently” (Exodus 19:16b,18). There, God would give voice to the commandments of His covenant, speaking clearly to Moses, for His people, as to what He desired from them. Before we get to that however, “the Lord called to him from the mountain” and said, “Thus you will tell the house of Jacob and declare to the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (19:3b-4). What does David say, when he contemplates the Lord’s deliverance? Again, with words that will call exodus and Sinai and covenant to mind, he says, “He made the sky sink as He descended; a thick cloud was under His feet. He mounted a winged angel and flew; He glided on the wings of the wind. He shrouded Himself in darkness, in thick rain clouds. From the brightness in front of Him came coals of fire. The Lord thundered from the sky; the sovereign One shouted loudly” (22:10-14).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 67)

Returning to what was said a bit earlier, when we read about David’s God as a shield and a stronghold and a savior that saves from violence, we do well to refrain from reading and applying these words in only a spiritual sense. David’s God---our God---acts within history, and He is to be praised as the Creator, as well as the maker of covenant, and the exerciser of providential power to bring His covenants to pass, whether that be the covenant promises made to Adam, to Abraham, to Israel, or specifically to David. Once we understand that a God of history has purposes that He is working out, in history, through and for His creation, and once we locate ourselves within that history that ceaselessly points to His redemptive purposes, trusting that He is a God that promises and powerfully delivers on those promises, as the historical record indicates, then we turn the substance of David’s praises inward, with the proper realization that God, by His Spirit, transforms us by being all of these things for us, so that He might make us fit for His service and the performance of His good in and for His world. If we do not first have a God, as David did, that is rooted in history, then what we have is nothing more than a conjuring of our imagination. Such considerations should serve as a reminder of the importance of the historical life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus.

David continues on and says, “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was delivered from my enemies” (22:4). Here, it is appropriate to reflect upon the fact that the king of Israel is the representative of the people. As the representative of the people, it is incumbent upon the king to know the history of the people, and to connect himself with that history. As has already been said, David uses exodus language quite heavily in this song of praise. As we move forward, we will see that he is couching his song of praise not only in the language of exodus, but in the story of the Egyptian exodus itself. This once again serves to demonstrate, if we have not already been convinced, that the story of the exodus is what gives Israel its purpose and identity. Separating Israel and its Scriptures and its self-understanding from the story of exile and exodus separates Israel from that which is determinative of its existence, which is why it is so incredibly pervasive. Exodus is such a powerful concept that the greatest threat that the Lord delivers against His people is the threat of ending their lives of exodus, and returning them to exile. Indeed, we saw this as we dealt with Absalom, as he relied upon the story of the exodus, positioning himself as a new Moses, sent to deliver the people from his father, who had become a corrupt and cruel oppressor not unlike the Pharaoh of Egypt. Absalom understood and counted upon the people’s realization of the significance of the story, and David experienced the powerful effects firsthand, so it is no wonder that David would make the effort to firmly ensconce himself within this powerful tradition. If this is true of Israel in the time of David, so also is it true of the Israel of God in this day.

It is impossible to understand the Scriptures and the mission of the people of God apart from the story of exile and exodus. So when David says “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I was delivered from my enemies,” he is appealing directly to the exodus tradition. Because the Egyptian exodus was not an event that had simply taken place several hundred years prior, but rather, was celebrated each year at Passover, and was the context for the life and purpose of Israel, David could make that appeal, fully expecting those who heard this song to see the connection that is being made. David’s words would cause his hearers or the readers to look back to Israel in Egypt, to hear Israel groaning “because of the slave labor” (Exodus 2:23b). With this groaning, “They cried out,” calling out like David, “and their desperate cry because of their slave labor went up to God” (2:23b). They called out because they knew that they had a promise from God. David called out because he knew that God had fulfilled His promises, and because of that, was “worthy of praise.” We read that “God heard their groaning, God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob, God saw the Israelites, and God understood” (2:24-25). As a result, God sent forth a deliverer to rescue Israel from its oppressors---its enemies. This is how David looks upon his God.
For David, the God of Israel was, and is, and forever will be the God of deliverance---the God of exodus! Within this framework, we can now see David positioning himself as Israel, through the medium of his being their representative, so when we read “The waves of death engulfed me; the currents of chaos overwhelmed me. The ropes of Sheol tightened around me; the snares of death trapped me” (22:5-6), we think of Israel in Egypt, engulfed and trapped by death, and overwhelmed by chaos, in desperate need of the Lord’s salvation, which would be their exodus. Israel needed deliverance into the Lord’s purposes for them, as did David almost constantly, as do all that call upon His Name. That is rescue. That is exodus.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 66)

It is in response to this knowledge, along with the word that he had received in his inquiry from the Lord, that David summons the Gibeonites and says to them, “What can I do for you, and how can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?” (21:3) Before going on, we must take note of the explicit connection to the Abrahamic covenant that David is shown to be making. David, of course, is referring to Israel when he speaks of the “Lord’s inheritance.” By speaking of “blessing” that inheritance, David invokes the promise to Abraham, which must have been well understood by the Gibeonites (because they lived and served among Israel, and presumably, would have known the story of Israel quite well), that Israel’s God would bless those who blessed Abraham (and by extension, Israel).

Here, David is seizing on an opportunity. He is using the famine in a calculated manner for the sake of his own kingship and that of his progeny. Additionally, he knows that the Gibeonites are motivated by revenge, so in calling to mind the blessings promised (in the Abrahamic covenant) for those that bless Israel (with the king representing Israel in such a way that by their serving the king they bless him, the nation as a whole, and themselves in turn), he is going to turn that mindset of vengeance in his own favor. After being asked this extraordinarily calculated question by David, “The Gibeonites said to him, ‘We have no claim to silver or gold from Saul or from his family, nor would we be justified in putting to death anyone in Israel.’” (21:4a) Feigning ignorance of where all of this was leading, “David asked, ‘What then are you asking me to do for you?’” (21:4b) “They replied to the king, ‘As for this man who exterminated us and who schemed against us so that we were destroyed and left without status throughout all the borders of Israel---let seven of his male descendants be turned over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, who was the Lord’s chosen one.’” (21:5-6a) In what must have been a considerable exercise of self-restraint in the midst of jubilation, David says, “I will turn them over” (21:6b).

Once again, let us not forget the calculated measures taking place. According to the history presented here in this book, David had recently experienced Absalom’s rebellion (with his own temporary deposition from power), along with the issue of Sheba. Together with that, there were other potential problems and rebellions with which to be dealt, and the most natural direction from which those problems would come would be from the family of Saul. Indeed, we see evidence of David being inclined to think in such ways, if we look back to his flight from Jerusalem, when he was met by Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth (the son of Jonathan to whom David had extended grace and seated at his table, treating him as one of his own sons). When David sees that Ziba alone has come to him, without Mephibosheth, bringing him bread, raisin cakes, summer fruit, and wine (16:1), he says, “Where is your master’s grandson?” (16:3a). Ziba replies by saying, “He remains in Jerusalem, for he said, ‘Today the house of Israel will give back to me my grandfather’s kingdom” (16:3b).

Though this makes no sense at all, as it was Absalom, David’s son, that was supported by the people and taking the throne, we see David’s willingness to believe such a thing and the ongoing threat of reprisal from Saul’s family implied therein, as he says, “Everything that was Mephibosheth’s now belongs to you” (16:4a). Now, the presence of Saul’s old enemies provide the means to end this looming threat once and for all. So we read that “The king had mercy on Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, in light of the Lord’s oath that had been taken between David and Jonathan son of Saul” (21:7), though before he had been willing to quickly write off Mephibosheth and toss him aside as a traitor and conspirator. Additionally, because Mephibosheth was crippled in his feet, not only would he not be able to rise up to lead an army, but David would also have been confident that the people of Israel would certainly not support one such as him as king.
Sparing Mephibosheth, the king took seven sons and grandsons of Saul and “turned them over to the Gibeonites, and they executed them on a hill before the Lord. The seven of them died together” (21:9a). To go along with that, the Gibeonites left those men there to rot. For David, problem solved. However, drawing attention to what could truly have been viewed by the people as a rather despicable, unjustifiable, and clearly politically calculated action on David’s part, a woman named Rizpah, the mother of the sons of Saul that had been executed, “took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest until the rain fell on them, she did not allow the birds of the air to feed on them by day, not the wild animals by night” (21:10). This was an unforeseen nuisance, and when David is told that this was taking place, he ordered their bodies to be taken, along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan, to be buried in the tomb of Saul’s father in the land of Benjamin. Thus, David is then seen to be honoring these men. Most likely, he does this so that he will not simply be viewed as being responsible for their execution though they had done no wrong, especially in light of the fact that God’s law clearly stated that a son was not to be put to death because of the actions of his father, though this was precisely what David allowed to take place because it was a furtherance of his own ends.

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 65)

As we continue our march through the Scriptures, and as we continue our observation of the Biblical history from the angle of the dominant theme of exile and exodus, we now reach the twenty-second chapter of the second book of Samuel. Here is where we find what is known as “David’s Song.” In the first verse we read “David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord rescued him from the power of all his enemies, including Saul” (22:1). As we will see, David viewed the Lord as the God of rescue from subjugation. Not surprisingly, as we move through this song, we will find David speaking the language of exodus, as he too was patently aware that God’s deliverance (exodus) of His people from Egypt (exile) was the most important and powerful story of Israel’s history, as it acutely connected them with Abraham, which then, in turn, connected them with Adam (as Abraham had been chosen out by God to be His vessel to bring God’s blessing to a world that had fallen into cursing because of Adam).

So as this song of David begins, we hear him saying, “The Lord is my high ridge, my stronghold, my deliverer” (22:2). This is pure exodus language, and it points to the fact that David considered his numerous trials and tribulations and circumstances that he often brought upon himself to be akin to the state of exile. Not only was his God his deliverer (and high ridge and stronghold), but His role as Israel’s deliverer from Egypt was part of what defined Israel’s God for them. In the exodus, Moses had been God’s instrument for deliverance, leading them to Sinai (a high ridge) and to their promised land (a stronghold). Beyond that, to further define God’s role as deliverer, one need only look to the history of Israel through the time period recorded in the book of Judges, and the repetitive language of deliverance, as God continually raised up deliverers for His people, to bring them back from their repeated excursions into varying states of exile.

Continuing his use of exodus language, David says “My God is my rocky summit where I take shelter, my shield, the horn that saves me, my stronghold, my refuge, my savior. You save me from violence! (22:3) Shelter and shield and stronghold and refuge---all point to the God of exodus. If we think back to the ten plagues of Egypt, we remember that the land in which Israel dwelt, and the people of Israel themselves, were spared from the plagues and from their effects. They were sheltered and shielded. Their God Himself was their stronghold and their refuge. Though it is tempting to use these terms in purely spiritual and personal ways, and though it is entirely proper to do so, we cannot and should not lose grip of the fact that this terminology is rooted, first and foremost, in the history of Israel, as the constant presentation and consistent understanding of the Lord their God was that He was the God of creation and of covenant, that providentially entered into history on behalf of His chosen people, in order to further His purposes for them and through them for His world.

When David speaks of Israel’s God as the “horn that saves me” and “my savior,” he is using language with definite historical reference points. Remember, the immediate context for the language, as we have read, is that this is a song offered in praise of the God that saved him from all his enemies, including Saul; and the song follows the recounting of David’s long and interesting and rather sordid history. In fact, it follows from the stories of Sheba son of Bicri and the vengeful Gibeonites. In the story of Sheba, we find a mini-rebellion against David following his re-taking of the throne of Israel. David’s response to Sheba is different from his response to Absalom (for obvious reasons---Absalom was his son, the Lord could have easily been fulfilling His promise to David through Absalom’s kingship, the Lord was chastising David for his failures, David has previously experienced an unexpected loss of the people’s support, etc…), as he says to Abishai (who was the one so eager to strike down Shimei on two occasions), “Now Sheba son of Bicri will cause greater disaster for us than Absalom did! Take your Lord’s servants and pursue him. Otherwise he will secure fortified cities for himself and get away from us” (20:6). As a result, Sheba, though he did gather some supporters (20:14), was struck down relatively quickly. This was yet another salvation from enemies.

Following that, we can read about the story of the Gibeonites. It is said that “During David’s reign there was a famine for three consecutive years. So David inquired of the Lord. The Lord said, ‘It is because of Saul and his bloodstained family, because he murdered the Gibeonites.’” (21:1) The Gibeonites, by way of recollection, were the group of people that came to Joshua and Israel, pretending to be from a faraway land, offering terms of peace. Joshua and Israel made a treaty with them, and upheld the treaty (though they would become woodcutters and water-carriers for Israel) even when it was discovered that they had lied and mis-represented themselves. The author here causes us to remember these things (which are obviously closely connected with the exodus and the conquering of the promised land, calling to mind God’s actions on behalf of His people), by writing “The Israelites had made a promise to them” (21:2b); “but,” he goes on to write, “Saul tried to kill them because of his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah” (21:2c).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rescued From Foreign Subjugation (part 64)

Returning to David’s re-entrance to Jerusalem, with his crossing of the Jordan (exodus), we look again at his encounter with Shimei, the man who had uttered curses against him when he had previously fled from Jerusalem in the other direction (exile). One of David’s trusted soldiers, a man named Abishai, said “should not Shimei be put to death? After all, he cursed the Lord’s anointed!” (2 Samuel 19:21b) When Shimei had originally cursed David, David’s response was to say, “If he curses because the Lord has said to him, ‘Curse David!’ who can say to him, ‘Why have you done this?’” (16:10b) This was uttered in the context of David having previously said, in reference to the Ark of the Covenant and Jerusalem, “If I find favor in the Lord’s sight He will bring me back and enable me to see both it and His dwelling place again” (15:25b).

Abishai did not share David’s mindset at the time of Shimei’s cursing, in that he said “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head!” (16:9b) David had not only responded with an insistence that the cursing might be inspired by the Lord, but he went on to say, “My own son, my very own flesh and blood, is trying to take my life”---which, along with his previous statement of “Come on! Let’s escape! Otherwise no one will be delivered from Absalom! Go immediately, or else he will quickly overtake us and bring disaster on us and kill the city’s residents with the sword” (15:14b), was a questionable statement from David at that time), “So also now this Benjaminite! Leave him alone so that he can curse, for the Lord has spoken to him. Perhaps the Lord will notice my affliction and this day grant me good in place of his curse” (16:11b-12).

Shimei took David’s words as a green light to continue his cursing, as he “kept going along the side of the hill opposite him, yelling curses as he threw stones and dirt at them” (16:13b). Perhaps the stones that were being thrown at David served as a not-so-subtle reminder, if indeed the Lord had spoken to Shimei, that David had deserved to be stoned for both his adultery and the murder (injustice and oppression) that he had perpetrated?

So, returning to the nineteenth chapter, and to David’s dealing with Shimei, there is a certain symmetry revealed in that Abishai is there repeating the words that he had previously spoken and saying, “For this should not Shimei be put to death? After all, he cursed the Lord’s anointed!” David’s response is to say “What do we have in common…? You are like my enemy today! Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Don’t you realize that today I am king over Israel?” (19:22) Following that, David told Shimei, “You won’t die,”, and “vowed an oath concerning this” (19:23). You see, David took it seriously when he said what he said about Shimei and his cursing. He took it quite seriously when he spoke about the Ark and Jerusalem and the finding of the Lord’s favor. At that time, he did not necessarily consider himself to be the Lord’s anointed. How could he? He knew what he had done. He knew that he stood in gross violation of his responsibilities before his God and to the people of God. David knew that God could have stripped the throne from him just as he had stripped the throne from Saul, for in reality, in the light of what was expected of Israel’s king, David had fared no better than Saul. For that reason, David could very well have considered Absalom to be the Lord’s anointed, which as has been said, would not have violated, in the least bit, the Lord’s covenantal promise to David in regards to setting his family on the throne in perpetuity.

As Shimei knelt before David, pledging his loyalty and begging for mercy, David knows that he is king. When curser has turned supplicant, looking for blessings, then David truly knows that he is, once again, the Lord’s anointed. Had Shimei not repented of his cursing, then David would have been justified in delivering the curse of death upon him. However, Shimei has confessed and repented and submitted to David. Therefore, it is David’s obligation to extend blessing? Is this not the Abrahamic covenant? Did Abraham not receive the promise that whoever cursed him (as the Lord’s anointed) would be cursed, and that whoever blessed him would be blessed, and that he and his descendants were to be the Lord’s instruments of blessing? It is for this reason, but not this reason alone, that David withholds retribution and stays Abishai’s eager sword.

In addition to this, we must remember when it was that Absalom reached the turning point and started down the path that led to failure and death. That point was when he reached out his hand, or at least agreed to reach out his hand and took steps to that end, against David. Remember, the point has been made that Absalom had taken the throne by peaceful means. Blood had not been shed. This should have been a clear sign, to Absalom, of the Lord’s favor upon his kingship. So when Absalom consented to the idea that David needed to be killed, that is the point, it seems, at which the Lord removed His approval from Absalom. Absalom’s agreement to have David killed, as was said, would have been akin to Israel turning and striking down Pharaoh after being granted exodus. David would have recognized that favor left Absalom and returned upon him when bloodshed, in an effort to seal the throne, was contemplated. So it is possible that it was in that light that David does not allow Shimei to be struck down, but rather, says, “Should anyone be put to death in Israel today?” (19:22b), knowing that such would not serve the plans and purposes of the merciful God that had returned the anointing to David and was returning him to the throne.