Five Minute Friday: Five

along-the-way-mlsgregg-com

Gentle Reader,

Tonight for the five lead by Kate, we write on: five.

Go.

Sometimes the crap hits the fan, and there’s no disguising the mess. Or smell.

Car.

Dishwasher.

Dog.

My faithful buddy, the fat and neurotic Benny, has congestive heart failure. He’s somewhere around 12-13 years old, so it’s not entirely surprising. But so hard. So very hard. The kind emergency vet lady gave him lasix pills, which seem to be helping, yet I know that the end of his life is nearer than the beginning. I can’t even start to think about what it will be like without him pressed up against my hip as I sit, curled up in the couch corner, tapping away at the keys.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    For they shall be comforted.

– Matthew 5:4 (NKJV)

This stage of existence is one of steady trouble punctuated by moments, tastes, glimpses of glory. Not one of us has an “easy life,” despite appearances. There is always something. Always tears lurking just beneath the surface, no matter how wide the smile. All it takes is one event or well-timed word to bring them crashing, rolling, down our cheeks.

Christ extends His hands, the ones still bearing the holes. Five fingers on each, wrapping around the back of our heads and pulling us to His chest. His heart and our sobs come together in an silent symphony, a song heard only by the orchestra of two. The lyrics are meaningless to outsiders. The clash of sacred and profane strikes a disturbingly dissonant chord.

Somehow, it is right.

Somehow, there is peace.

We’re trying to set aside just a little more money before we go car shopping, but that’s probably about to fly out the window and into the greedy mouth of a noisy new dishwasher. I can’t stop time’s ravaging effect on the soft, warm little body I see just out of the corner of my eye. I lay my hand on his soft fur, feel the rise and fall of his somewhat-labored breathing that continues only for now. My face is wet. I lean back and imagine myself the Beloved Disciple, reclining on the Savior’s chest that night, in that pause during the dinner, before the horror. He must have known, in that place buried deep in the back of each person’s mind, that the clock was set to shift to a new hour. An unsure hour.

As I know now.

And yet the promise stands,

I will not leave you orphans…

– John 14:18a (NKJV)

I have no solution for this problem, this thing called Pain, that has puzzled the wise down through the ages. I don’t know why things happen when and as they do.

I know only that He has not left me.

Nor has He left you.

Stop.

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The LORD Your God in Your Midst: All You Gentiles (2:4-9, 12-13)

The LORD, the Mighty One

Gentle Reader,

On our plate today is a large amount of text accompanied by a lot of commentary (that barely scratches the surface). Let’s dive right in:

For Gaza shall be forsaken,
And Ashkelon desolate;
They shall drive out Ashdod at noonday,
And Ekron shall be uprooted.
Woe to the inhabitants of the seacoast,
The nation of the Cherethites!
The word of the LORD is against you,
O Canaan, land of the Philistines:
“I will destroy you;
So there shall be no inhabitant.”

The seacoast shall be pastures,
With shelters for shepherds and folds for flocks.
The coast shall be for the remnant of the house of Judah;
They shall feed their flocks there;
In the houses of Ashkelon they shall lie down at evening.
For the LORD their God will intervene for them,
And return their captives.

I have heard the reproach of Moab,
And the insults of the people of Ammon,
With which they have reproached My people,
And made arrogant threats against their borders.
Therefore, as I live,”
Says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel,
“Surely Moab shall be like Sodom,
And the people of Ammon like Gomorrah—
Overrun with weeds and saltpits,
And a perpetual desolation.
The residue of My people shall plunder them,
And the remnant of My people shall possess them.”

“You Ethiopians also,
You shall be slain by My sword.”

And He will stretch out His hand against the north,
Destroy Assyria,
And make Nineveh a desolation,
As dry as the wilderness.

– Zephaniah 2:4-9, 12-13 (NKJV)

Narrative Shift

I’ve grouped these verses together because they address the same thing: Judgment on Gentile (non-Jewish) people, specifically for their failure to support and embrace the people of God.

The nations named may represent all the Gentiles, since these nations correspond to the four points of the compass: Assyria (north), Cush (south), Moab and Ammon (east) and Phillistia (west). (1)

It feels a like narrative whiplash. The prophet has been chronicling Judah’s sins, their need for repentance and the judgment that will fall on them if they refuse. It’s almost as if God laid His hand on the man’s head and suddenly turned his neck in the opposite direction, forcing him to take in a new scene. Why?

This change

…indicate(s) the sweeping nature of the coming storm. All will experience it, not only Judah, but also her ancient foes. (2)

We’ve moved from one layer of prophecy to another. Jumped from a narrow view to a wider view. No person who has ever existed has managed the escape the eyes of God. He sees all. Knows all.

Will judge all.

Philistia

The Philistines entered Canaan from the west around 1200 B.C.,shortly after the Israelites had entered from the east. The two peoples struggled for control of the land, Philistia gaining the upper hand until the time of David. According to this oracle (2:4-7), the inhabitants will be totally destroyed… (3)

Who were these Philistines? The prevailing (but disputed) theory is that they originated somewhere in the Aegean Islands off the coast of Greece, with some pointing to Crete as the most likely springboard. According to Joshua 13:3 and 1 Samuel 6:17, their territory consisted of five cities (Ashkelon,  Ashdod, Ekron, Gath and Gaza), referred to as a pentapolis. Archaeological evidence, though not definitive, links them to the Mycenaeans, though whether they were the direct descendants of those who walked the halls of Knossos or were connected to and influenced by the “first Greeks” through trade is unknown. The discovery of a burial site near Ashkelon in July 2016 will shed further light on the shadowy origins of these most famous of Old Testament foes. (4)

We all know the name of one Philistine: Goliath, the giant, brought down by the faith (and the stone) of David, a teenaged shepherd who would go on to be Israel’s warrior-poet King. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel record additional struggles and interactions between the people of the coast and the people of the Promised Land. The funniest of these is found in 1 Samuel 5. In summary, the Philistines capture the Ark of the Covenant and mayhem breaks loose. (Just pause now and read it. Highly entertaining).

The Philistines remained a thorn in Israel’s side for so long because of the incomplete nature of the Conquest (the book of Joshua covers this period; the people were to utterly destroy every people group then occupying the Promised Land. It’s uncomfortable reading, both when they do as God commands and when they don’t. We have to remember that God’s ways aren’t our ways [Isaiah 55:9]. We don’t see things the way He does). They actively harassed God’s people, stealing their goods and livestock and oppressing them however they could.

They fall under judgment for their treatment of the Israelites, but also for their rejection of God. The Philistines lived around and among people who knew the truth for centuries. There is no doubt that they (in general) had to make an active, conscious decision about who they would worship and how they would live.

The conflict continues to play out today. We hear about it every time something happens in the Gaza Strip.

Moab and Ammon

Regarding these nations, the oracle

…indicts them for insulting and taunting the people of God. Israel and these two peoples who were the descendants of Lot through his daughters (Ge 19:30-38) had fought often through the centuries over the territory of Gilead. (5)

Nearly everything about Lot’s life as recorded in Genesis flies past the PG-13 mark. It’s hard to have sympathy for him. First, he’s greedy, taking the best of the land when given a choice by his uncle, the patriarch Abraham (Genesis 13). He then proceeds to get captured (Genesis 14) because he wasn’t exactly smart in choosing where to settle (Genesis 19). Lot gets a few points for recognizing God’s angels when they come to enact judgment upon Sodom (Genesis 19:1-2), but then he loses them when a crowd of men wants to rape the angels and he goes, “Nah, take my daughters instead.”

After fleeing Sodom (at which point his wife turns into a pillar of salt because she wasn’t exactly a paragon of awesomeness, either), he proceeds to get rip-roaring drunk and have sex with those same daughters. Now, I ask you: How drunk and stupid does a man have to be to have sex with his daughters?! They had kids by him, so the chances are good that this happened more than once. (And yes, the daughters are equally icky for initiating the whole thing).

Blame nature, blame nurture, blame whatever, but with a beginning like this, it’s not hugely surprising that the nations that developed from the men named Moab and Ben-Ammi were the way they were. I don’t doubt that their hatred for their Israelite cousins can be traced right to this spot. It’s not hard for me to imagine Lot sputtering and spitting about his more fortunate relative, poisoning future generations with bitterness. (This is, of course, conjecture and generalized. I could be very wrong).

The bright spot in Moab/Israel relations is recorded in the book of Ruth. That’s a story we ladies can cheer over and it doesn’t have anything to do with Boaz and romance. God used an unlikely woman from an unlikely place. She had a son named Obed, who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David. Ruth, the peasant woman from Moab, is part of the lineage of Jesus Christ.

Ethiopia (Cush)

This nation was located in the upper Nile region. Some students think the references includes Egypt, another long-time enemy. (6)

Warren Weirsbe’s is not off-base in his assessment here. There are scant biblical references to actual interaction between Ethiopia (sometimes rendered Cush) and Israel, while Egypt’s animosity toward their former slaves is evident. There were times when one kingdom dominated the other; the struggle went back and forth for centuries. However, it is possible that this reference has something to do with Zephaniah’s ancestry.

We discussed previously that there is little known about the prophet himself. The reference to Hezekiah 1:1 could imply his belonging to the royal house. However, Zephaniah was “the son of Cushi” and

…there are at least four plausible reasons for naming someone Cushi: the individual was actually a Cushite from Cush; the individual had a Cushite mother, father or grandparent, and therefore looked like a Cushite; the individual had Judahite parents, but was born in Cush; or in the individual was named in honor of the Cushites, since they were a powerful military ally in the struggle against the Assyrians. (7)

Intriguing possibilities here. I am inclined to agree with those who believe that Zephaniah was a descendant of King Hezekiah, because it makes little sense that he would mention some random guy in the opening of his book. I think he was establishing credibility. But what if he had to establish that credibility because he was the result of forbidden intermarriage somewhere along the line? Or what if he was the son of traders or even ambassadors and was born afar off? There’s no way to know, but the idea that he had connections to this other, doomed nation makes the weight of his job even heavier somehow.

Assyria

Assyria also is indicated for the sin of pride (vv. 13-15) as she declares that she alone exists with none (god? city?) like her (v. 15b). Her safety or security is falsely placed in her own military prowess. This is a challenge to the sovereignty of Yahweh, and he sentences her populous cities to be reduced to habitations of wild animals. (8)

The powerhouse of the region, Assyria had destroyed Judah’s kinsmen, the people of the kingdom of Israel. They killed as many as they could, deporting and marrying whoever was left. (This intermarriage would eventually bring about the Samaritan people who pop up so often during the life of Jesus).

Assyria was the region in the Near East which, under the Neo-Assyrian Empire, reached from Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) through Asia Minor (modern Turkey) and down through Egypt. (9)

The big kahunas. The bullies. The folks who produced Tiglath-Pileser, one of the greatest and simultaneously most brutal kings of ancient history. (Incidentally, Tiglath-Pileser would be an awesome name for a dog, if only it didn’t mean “my trust is in the son of Esharra/Ishara.” All these cool-sounding ancient names and their connections to false gods…). Jonah ran away and spent time inside a big fish rather than go to Nineveh and preach to these folks. That’s how bad they were and how deep the hatred was for what they did.

Around to Now

Each of these nations treated God’s people poorly. He brought each one to a crashing, never-to-recover-from end. Yes, people still live in those areas, but never again have they risen to dominance. They chose to reject God. They chose to harm His people. He responded.

How do the Gentile nations of 2016 treat the people of Israel?

What I’m about to write will offend some of you, so prepare yourselves: There are deep and lasting consequences for refusing to support Israel. The Palestinians do not have a right to rule that land. Islamic nations and peoples do not have the right to murder Jews. This does not mean that the Palestinians should be homeless or that Muslims should be exterminated. Far from it. What this does mean is that God is a covenant-keeper. He gave that slice of earth to Abraham and his descendants. The literal children of Abraham own the Promised Land. They have no forfeited their right to it because of their (general and, I believe, temporary) rejection of Messiah. The covenant is completely dependent upon God. (True story – read Genesis 15. Abraham slept through the whole thing). The spiritual children of Abraham must rally around them. The nations of the earth would do well to champion the little nation that could.

I abhor war and violence. My support for Israel does not mean that I agree with every stance and action of the government. I believe that any Palestinian who wishes to live peacefully and chooses to submit to Israeli leadership should be left in peace. Really, I think that’s probably what the average Jewish citizen of Israel, tired of bombs and guns and fear, wants as well.

In Acts 7, Stephen is stoned to death, becoming the first Christian martyr. A man named Saul witnessed the event, approving of it, holding people’s coats so they could throw better. In Acts 9, this same Saul is struck blind, falling from his mount to the hard ground below. He hears,

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

– 4b (NKJV)

It is God Himself speaking. He takes the troubles of His children personally. I don’t believe that God has given up on the Jewish people. I don’t believe that He has abandoned them. Surely He feels their troubles as keenly as He does those of the Gentile Christian. And surely this is a fiercesome thing indeed.

In closing,

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go into the house of the LORD.”
Our feet have been standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem!

Jerusalem is built
As a city that is compact together,
Where the tribes go up,
The tribes of the LORD,
To the Testimony of Israel,
To give thanks to the name of the LORD.
For thrones are set there for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
Prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brethren and companions,
I will now say, “Peace be within you.”
Because of the house of the LORD our God
I will seek your good.

– Psalm 122 (NKJV)

Reflection

  1. Why do you think there is such a long history of the world, in general, hating the Jewish people? Where and how have you seen this hatred expressed? (The Holocaust is of course a glaring and horrifying example, but try to think more broadly).
  2. Is God right to judge nations for how they treat Israel? Don’t head for the Sunday school answer of “yes.” What do you really think?
  3. Read Romans 9-11. Contrary to some teaching, these chapters are not about the Church, and they are about far more than the doctrine of election. There is one road of salvation, and it is plainly paved with the blood of Christ, but has God given up on Israel? Has He turned His back on her?
  4. What is your stance on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? If you’ve never really thought about it before, take some time now and do some reading. Then do as the psalmist says and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
  5. Read Zephaniah 2. What stands out to you?

My journey to faith. (15)

Sources

(1) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 150.

(2) Asbury Bible Commentary

(3) Ibid.

(4) Discovery of Philistine Cemetery May Solve Biblical Mystery

(5) Asbury Bible Commentary

(6) Weirsbe, 151.

(7) From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race

(8) Asbury Bible Commentary

(9) Ancient Assyria

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.

The LORD Your God in Your Midst: Like Chaff (2:1-3)

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;He will rejoice over you with gladness,He will quiet you with His love,He will rejoice over you with singing.” (1)

Gentle Reader,

Chapter two!

It only took us fourteen weeks to get here.

Gather yourselves together, yes, gather together,
O undesirable nation,
Before the decree is issued,
Or the day passes like chaff,
Before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you,
Before the day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you!
Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth,
Who have upheld His justice.
Seek righteousness, seek humility.
It may be that you will be hidden
In the day of the LORD’s anger.

– 2:1-3 (NKJV)

Shameless

The NKJV renders the Hebrew kâsaph and lôh as “undesirable” here, but a better translation would be “without shame” or “shameless.” Strong’s defines kâsaph as “to pine after; also to fear: have desire, be greedy, long, sore” (1) while lôh is “not (the simple or abstract negation); by implication no” (2). In this context, the people of Judah are without shame before God. They do not long for Him. They do not pine for His presence. They parade their sin in front of Him. Their love has gone completely cold.

It is thus fascinating that God calls them to gather themselves together and repent. He has no delusions. He knows who they are. He sees through the thickest walls and the heaviest doors. He watches what they do when they think all is hidden. He knows they don’t care.

This is how God works.

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.

– Romans 5:6-8 (MSG)

Isn’t that incredible? He calls out to people who are about to suffer the consequences of their bad choices. He doesn’t ask us to clean up our lives. He doesn’t command that we get all the ducks in order before coming to Him. Instead He says, “Come, right now, when you’re shameless. When you don’t have sense enough to care about Me. When you think I’m out to ruin all your fun and that I want to be mean to you. Come. Let Me show you otherwise.”

God punishes, but He gets no pleasure from it. He would rather that Zephaniah’s people bow down in the middle of the muck and mire and ask for forgiveness. He would rather show them how to start over.

Corporate

The ancient Jewish understanding of relationship with God focused less on the individual and more on the community. An individual’s faith and standing before God were important, but rarely considered apart from the group as a whole. Each member of the nation was connected to the others.

Where individuals are singled out it seems to be for the good of the community. For example, the Genesis narrative develops the theme of God’s blessing, which though resting on certain individuals, renders them agents for some greater work of God. Joseph’s rise to fame in Egypt preserves the lives of his entire family ( Gen 45:4-7 ). Through Noah’s faithfulness God brings salvation to his family as well as animal life (Gen. 7-9). And the blessing of the promise of nationhood and land for Abraham was not only for his descendants but for all families on the earth ( Gen 12:1-3 ). After 430 years in Egypt, an entire people is delivered through Moses (Exod. 1-12). Through Esther’s rise to power the Jewish people are spared annihilation ( Esther 7 ). (3)

When one strayed, he affected the whole nation. When one loved the Lord, she affected the whole nation. This is why, even though verse three makes it clear that there is a righteous remnant in the land (we’ll get to that in a minute), God calls the entire group to appear before Him and repent. God does not hold one person responsible for another’s sin, but He does teach His people then and now to love and admonish the wayward and even, as in Daniel 9, participate in repenting for those sins.

In our modern Western context, we have trouble grasping the corporate nature of relationship with God. As far as we are concerned, it’s every woman for herself. Passages like Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount), 1 Corinthians 12-13, Romans 12-14, Ephesians 3-5, Colossians 1 and the whole of 1 John point in the opposite direction. I am not responsible for your sin and you’re not responsible for mine, but we are on this journey together. When I hurt, you hurt. When you do well, I do well. We each have a role, a function, and can’t do without each other.

The Remnant

Zephaniah especially called upon the godly remnant…to pray and seek God’s face, perhaps referring to the promise in 2 Chronicles 7:14. But even if the majority of the nation followed false gods and turned away from the Lord, God would still protect His own precious remnant when the day of judgment comes (Mal. 3:16-18). (4)

In general, the prophets are careful to point out that there were people who were still obedient to the Lord. Remnant is a fancy way of saying “leftovers or remainders” (5). There were people who remained true to Him. Nevertheless, they would suffer because of the actions of their kinsman. Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael were all deported to Babylon (Daniel 1). It is likely that they were castrated, made into eunuchs (6). Given that the first chapter of the book that bears his name shows Daniel and his comrades refusing to violate kosher law, it’s my opinion that they were probably among those who loved God. They didn’t deserve to be carted away, have the chance of family life ripped from them and be forced to serve a foreign king.

Yet Daniel and others like him had an important job in the middle of the suffering.

They were a ‘company of the concerned’ who became the nucleus of the restored nation when they returned to the land. In every period in history, it is the godly remnant that keeps the light burning when it seems as if the darkness is about to cover the earth. (7)

It would be easy for us to say, “That’s not fair. These people, this remnant, loved God. Why did they have to go through that? Why were they going to have to see their homes destroyed and family members killed?” I tread lightly, because I don’t believe that anyone really has a good answer to that kind of question, but I think it comes down to the ripple effect. God doesn’t force anyone to live rightly and actions have consequences (a point Zephaniah hammers on time and time again). Rarely do those consequences go without touching others.

Think of it this way: Suppose the country you live in decides that it’s illegal to be a Christian. (This is reality in many parts of the world). God isn’t punishing you. You haven’t done anything to displease Him. Yet suddenly you find yourself imprisoned or even killed. The wrong choices others make impact your life, even though you’re doing your best to follow God.

Like Chaff

The Hebrew word here is qash, meaning “stubble, chaff” (8). (Deep, right?) Chaff is “the seed coverings and other debris separated from the seed in threshing grain” (9)

Okay, so here’s where it gets good.

The harvesting process involves separating the grain from the chaff. Chaff is useless. It’s an #aintnobodygottimeforthat sort of thing. In ancient times, the grain would be separated from the stalks, usually with a hinged stick-like instrument called a flail, and laid out on a threshing floor. It was then thrown into the air like this:

Image result for ancient threshing

The wind would carry away the useless chaff while the heavier grain settled back to the floor.

God is telling His people, “Your time is short. Don’t waste a moment.”

Reflection

  1. How have you been shameless? How do you recognize the attitude if it crops up in your life now? What do you do about it?
  2. Read 1 John. (It won’t take that long). Note the use of corporate words (“us,” “we,” “you”). Do you have a sense of belonging to a larger community of faith, or are you stuck in “just Jesus and me” mode?
  3. Read Daniel 9:1-19. What do you think of Daniel repenting for his entire nation? What do you think of him identifying with people he’d never met and sins he’d never committed? Is that something you could do?
  4. Read Zephaniah 2. What stands out to you? What do you want to know more about from this chapter?

My journey to faith. (15)

Sources

(1) Kâsaph

(2) Lôh

(3) Salvation

(4) Warren Weirsbe. Be Concerned: Minor Prophets. (David C. Cook: Colorado Springs, 1996), 149.

(5) Remnant

(6) Were Daniel and His Friends Eunuchs?

(7) Weirsbe, 150.

(8) Qash

(9) Chaff

Image

For all entries in The LORD Your God in Your Midst series, go here.