Five Minute Friday: Listen

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Gentle Reader,

So many ways to go with this prompt of Kate’s. Listen. A recent experience results in this.

Go.

Do you hear the sound?
Pulsing, pounding, vibrating ’round?

Can you feel it, ‘neath your feet?
Sense it moving, creeping, clapping beat?

Not with eyes is reverberation spied
But with ears, open, open wide

An ache that words cannot express
A sigh too deep, the story repress

A meaning couched behind the words
Fleeting, fast as hummingbirds

More than what is said, down to what is felt
To beliefs, to core, to wounds’ harsh welt

To quesitons, to self-sense, to space
To wondering if there is a thing called grace

Do you hear the sound?
Of people longing, straining, bound?

Of souls in need of strong embrace
To know the God who can outpace

All lies, all hurt, all vision wrecked
The injured ones, He does collect

The ones who huddled in cars sleep
The ones over lost children weep

The ones whose bodies are bruised and black
The ones who know they can never go back

Do we see what God sees, hear what He hears?
Or are we wrapped up in vanishing dears –

The things we hold so close, so safe
No matter how the weight does chafe

The skin of hands held to tight
Hands that were made to spread His light

Do we stop, or do we walk on by?
Do we leave them alone, left to cry?

Left to wonder if anyone cares
Left to wonder if He knows their hairs

Do you hear the sound?
Of opportunities abound?

Or do you sit up in your tower,
Behind your reasons cower?

Stop.

How do we treat those who are different from us? Different life experiences, different views, different choices. Today I was reminded of the vital nature of looking beyond the surface. Of not assuming.

People are people, whoever they are, and all deserve to be treated with compassion.

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Photo Credit: Jose Martin

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.

Five Minute Friday: Heal

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Gentle Reader,

First, I’m releasing a book next month and I’d love for you to be on my team.

Second, there’s now a Facebook page for this here blog.

Third, Kate says: heal.

Go.

Eight scars.

The big one, stretching from sternum, down around rib cage, nipping at the edge of my waist.

Little ones, two in my belly button, forming a lowercase “t” shape.

So much story, stretched tight across skin that will never respond to touch the same way again. Yet not the whole story.

What we can see tells us so little. I was reminded of this just a few hours ago in a grocery store parking lot. I’ve been driving my husband’s enormous truck all week because my car is stupid (read: has major problems that aren’t worth fixing because the fixing is equal to the worth of the car). I had to pick up a couple of things after work today, and of course the place was crawling with people. I cautiously pulled the beast into a space in the back corner, knowing that I would probably have to pull forward, then back up a little before I could freely exit.

This is exactly what happened. I got in and out of the store as fast as I could. Surprisingly for the just-after-work-has-ended hour, everyone was pleasant. I stashed my goods in the back seat, took the running leap necessary to achieve the vault required for me to reach the driver’s side seat and was ready to go. Pulled forward, then smoothly moved into reverse.

Out of nowhere an older man in an equally large truck appeared between me and the curb. His window was rolled down and he was yelling at me. A blind person could have seen that I was uncomfortable and doing my best, but, noooooooo! He had places to be and things to do and I was in his way and he was just going to bull on through.

Confession: I yelled back. There were some blue words. He didn’t hear me. But still.

None of us can see beyond the surface. We don’t know what someone else is going through. We don’t know what has wounded them. We don’t know how or where or why they bleed. It takes effort, a deliberate slowing down, for us to even catch a glimpse.

I wonder tonight how my very human tendency to stay at the surface has hindered healing, for myself and for others. What has God wanted to deal with and I’ve refused to go there with Him? What deeper pain has someone needed to express, needed me to listen to, and I’ve been too busy or too impatient? When have I yelled back when I needed to be silent? When have I withheld when I needed to move forward?

God is masterful and creative. Healing can come through any avenue, in any shape, He deems fit. Wonder of wonders, He often allows us to participate in that. In our own healing. In bringing healing to others.

We just have to look beyond the scars. Read past the first page of the story.

Stop.

I hate self-promotion. I really do. It’s not fun for me to ask you to be on my book launch team or to “like” my Facebook page. But I’m learning that’s part-and-parcel of the writing gig when you’re small and unrepresented. (I don’t mind being small and unrepresented. Well, most of the time). Please know that I bear you no ill will if you neither join the team nor like the page. Please also know that you’re welcome to do both or either. I think you’re cool and you’re always welcome.

My journey to faith. (15)

Photo Credit: Jamie Cooper