Tag Archives: Babylon

God’s People, part 105: Cyrus

Read Isaiah 45

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the other leaders of Israel replied, ‘You may have no part in this work. We alone will build the Temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, just as King Cyrus of Persia commanded us.’” (Ezra 4:3 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Cyrus the GreatPart 105: Cyrus. If you are a student of ancient history (amateur or otherwise), you know that King Cyrus, or Cyrus the great was one of the greatest of the Persian kings. He and his successor, Darius the Great, were perhaps the two kings most responsible for the dramatic rise and expansion of the Persian Empire. Cyrus was known to have a policy of tolerance to the lands he conquered and their religious sensibility, so long as those lands submitted to his ultimate rule and authority. Darius, and subsequent kings, continued that policy onward.

Thus, Cyrus became not only known as the King of Persia, but also the King of Anshan, King of Media, King of Babylon (which is most important for this devotion), King of Sumer, and King of Akkad. What’s more he was known as the Great King, as the King of kings, and as the King of the Four Corners of the World. Needless to say, King Cyrus’ name got around and those who were not under his rule, feared they might be next on his radar.

With that said, there is one more title that is missing from this list of titles that Cyrus readily claimed for himself. What title, you may be wondering? The Jewish title of Messiah, the anointed one of God and king of the Jews. It is here that you may be scratching your head and, provided you read the Scriptures for today (I suggest you do so if you haven’t), you are most certainly wondering where on earth one could possibly pull Messiah from the text.

In Isaiah 45:1, the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible reads as such, “This is what the LORD says to Cyrus, His anointed one, whose right hand He will empower. Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear. Their fortress gates will be opened, never to shut again” (emphasis added). The Hebrew word for “anointed one”, is מָשִׁיחַ (pronounced maw-shee’-akh). In English, מָשִׁיחַ translates to the word messiah. So, the author of Isaiah refers to Cyrus as the messiah, as the anointed one of God. Why, you may wonder?

It is because when King Cyrus invaded Babylon, or any kingdom for that matter, he had the policy of freeing all peoples who had been exiled to those lands. There are several reasons why, economic, diplomatic and otherwise; however, it was certainly good politics. It caused people who would otherwise be contentious and possibly rebellious to grow loyal to the new leader.

That, as is evidenced in the Bible, is exactly what happened. Cyrus came into Babylon and put an end to the exile of the Jews. As such, they saw Cyrus as a King anointed by God, sent to be their liberator and to return them to their rightful place as God’s people in the promised land. Cyrus, it must be noted, is one of the few foreign kings to be praised in the Bible and certainly the only foreign king to be given the title of messiah.

Of course, we Christians know that another Jewish person, later on, would come as THE MESSIAH. That person, named Jesus of Nazareth, would not only bring liberation to the Jewish people but, through his Apostles, he would extend that liberation to the world. The liberation that Messiah Jesus would bring was not just a liberation from earthly oppression, but from spiritual oppression as well. Messiah (aka Christ) Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension would mark the beginning of the end of sin, evil and death, as well as the adoption of all believers into kinship with God.

While Cyrus was not THE MESSIAH, he was worthy of being called one of God’s anointed for there is little doubt, whether he realized it or not, God worked the liberation of the Jews through him. Thus, Cyrus goes down as one of the only foreign rulers praised in the Bible by Jewish prophets and the Jewish people. This should be a reminder to us that God can, and often does, work through anyone who is open to the Spirit of God. While we judge, people based off their geographical location and their national affiliation, God does not. Let this challenge us to see all people, no matter their nationality or allegiance, as people created in God’s image. Let us recognize that all people of all places and races have the divine potential to be anointed by God for the glory of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“From [Babylon] to Aššur and (from) Susa, Agade, Ešnunna, Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there, to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.” – King Cyrus the Great, take from the Cyrus Cylinder (written circa 538 BCE as translated at Livius.org).

PRAYER
Lord, help me to recognize your handiwork in all people, no matter how different they are from me. Amen.

God’s People, part 104: The Mede

Read Daniel 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Sharpen the arrows! Lift up the shields! For the Lord has inspired the kings of the Medes to march against Babylon and destroy her. This is his vengeance against those who desecrated his Temple.” (Jeremiah‬ ‭51:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

  Part 104: Darius. At the end of the fifth chapter of Daniel, and all throughout the sixth chapter, we run into what is a bit of a historical mystery in the Bible. The question that plagues scholars and theologians is this, who in the world was King Darius the Mede? If you Google “King Darius” your top results will point you to a Persian king named Darius I who was also known as Darius the Great. At a quick glance, one would think that this Darius must be Darius the Mede; however, when you pay close attention to the details, the Persian king (though the Persian Empire included the kingdom of Media) cannot be the same king as Darius the Mede.

According to the author of Daniel, Darius the Mede ruled in between the reigns of King Belshazaar (who I wrote about in the last part of this series) and the Persian king Cyrus. Yet, we know that King Darius the Great was the third king to succeed the thrown following the death of Cyrus. Thus, Darius the Mede and Darius the Great were not the same person.

So, who was Darius the Mede? This question leads us into the reality that not all of the books in the Bible were intended to be historical records, but were stories intended to convey a certain point and/or theology. Daniel may be one of those examples, as there is no record of there ever having been a Darius the Mede that ruled Babylon between the crown prince Belshazaar (who was given the title of King in the book of Daniel, but never really was king) and Cyrus the Great. The lineages of kings were important and meticulous records of those types of things were kept in the ancient world.

That is how we know so much about Cyrus and Darius and the other Persian kings. So, the fact that there is no historical record, whatsoever, of Darius the Mede can only mean that there was never any such person by that name who ruled Babylon prior to the Persians conquering it under Cyrus. Many scholars believe that Darius was a fictitious character that was a mashup of King Darius the Great with the words of Jeremiah 51:11.

What’s more, many scholars believe that the Book of Daniel itself is not a reliable work of history, but is, rather, and legendary tale, written in the second century BCE. These scholars question whether there ever was a Jewish person named Daniel in Babylon, as they say that there is no such Daniel mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Yet, there are scholars now questioning that belief, as Ezekiel 14:14, 20 mention a “Daniel” who very well might have been the same Daniel. If so, then Daniel may have been written in the sixth century BCE.

Much more could be written about this, but it matters not for the purpose of this devotion. Whether Daniel was the theological retelling of a legendary hero or a real person who had an excellent relationship with a real king who eludes us in the remaining historical records, we can still pull Biblical truth out it and its characters. In the Book of Daniel, Darius the Mede is first introduced in chapter 5. Belshazaar, after having the cups and plates that were pillaged from Solomon’s Temple be used for a great feast, was cursed by God to be killed that very night at the hands of a “Darius the Mede.”

Indeed, that comes to pass that very night and Darius becomes the King of Babylon. Darius quickly becomes impressed with Daniel and promotes him to a high office within Darius’ court. This, of course, makes Darius other officials angry and they plot to have Daniel killed. They carry this out by tricking the king into signing a royal decree (one that cannot be reversed) that no one can pray to any being, human or god, for an entire month. During that month the only being one could pray to was Darius. They conspirators stated that this was to prove the loyalty of Darius’ subjects.

Daniel, protested that and continued to pray, resulting in him being put into the lions’ den. Darius was destressed at the fact that he HAD TO throw his Jewish friend and confidant into the lions’ den. Yet, by morning, Darius found Daniel still alive, praised Daniel’s God and decreed that anyone who spoke ill of Daniel or his God would face certain death. The Median King then through the conspirators into the den, where they were eaten alive by the lions.

Whether or not Daniel is historical, the book’s point is 100% true: God is with us all and those who listen to and follow God will be blessed. Whether one is a loyal follower of God or a person who has never known God but is open to the Holy Spirit, all such people are God’s people and we are not to judge their character by the human labels (such as race or religion) that divide us. Let us be challenged by this. Yes, there is only ONE God, and that God is revealed to us in the Bible; however, who are we to limit God’s ability to work in and through all people? Let’s be humbled and challenged.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“I think you have to meet God kind of head on and I think sometimes when you live in a Christian culture that it’s hard to do that because we have all these preconceived ideas about who God is.” —Rich Mullins

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be humble enough to see that I don’t know you in the fullness of your glory. Amen.

God’s People, part 103: Belshazzar

Read Daniel 5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but Me.” (Exodus 20:2-3 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Rembrandt_-_Belshazzar's_Feast_-_WGA19123Part 103: Belshazzar. In our last devotion, we discussed King Nebuchadnezzar II’s reign and how pride got the best of him. He had great potential. He was a brilliant tactician, a leader with vision, and a ruler that all of the surrounding nations feared. He was, indeed, the “first king” in his dream of a great statue. He was the golden head, the first and the greatest of the kings that the statue represented.

Yet, Nebuchadnezzar had a huge ego and allowed it to get the best of him. He believed that it was HIS power and authority that was to be feared and made the people worship the very ground he walked on. Thus, God allowed him to be humbled and reminded of who was the TRUE AUTHORITY over heaven and earth. Once the king was humbled and came to that realization and place of repentance, he was restored back to his place of authority.

Belshazzar was not of the same ilk as Nebuchadnezzar. He ruled in place of his father, Nabonidus, during his father’s prolonged abscense from the city. While he was technically king in his father’s absence, he never assumed the titles or ritual functions of kingship. Still, while his father was  not around, the crown prince Belshazzar acted as regent and in charge of domestic matters. One of the things he tried to do in his father’s absence was overseeing temple estates and renting out temple land, as well as working to restore the top position of the Babylonian god Marduk of which his father had demoted in favor of the Babylonian moon goddess.

This insight helps us to understand Belshazzar’s actions against the Jews in Babylon. The Bible tells us that the crown prince (the author of Daniel refers to him as “king”) had the plundered cups and plates of the Jewish Temple used for one of his parties. Such an act, according to Jewish law, would defile the sacred cups of the Temple. Belshazzar did not heed that warning and a message was inscribed on the wall by a ghostly, disembodied finger. It read: “Mene, mene, tekel, and Parsin”, which loosely translated to mean that the king had been judged by God, that he  was found wanting, and that his days were numbered and his kingdom would be divided.

That very night, per the Bible, Belshazzar was killed by Darius the Mede who was conquering the city on behalf of King Cyrus of Persia. Whether these events are exactly historical is beside the point; rather, what is important is the point the narrative is conveying to us. The author of Daniel wants us to know that putting other things before the LORD is a defilement of God and will lead to our destruction.

This may sound harsh; however, there is much truth in it. It is not that God is harsh or cruel, but that when we put ourselves above God we do things that end up harming others. Such actions bear unnatural consequences that ultimately come back to bring us down in the end. In our world today, there are plenty of Christians who have made an idol out of their government and its leaders. These Christians have not only put Christ second to these human leaders, but they have distorted Christ and the Gospel message to make the Gospel conform to their worldly ideologies. Woe to such people who use God as a means to their own wicked end. Let us be challenged to subject our ideologies to God’s measure, rather than subject God to the measure of our ideologies.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The art of government is the [organization] of idolatry.” – George Bernard Shaw

PRAYER
Lord, help me to lay my idols to rest. You are LORD of lords and KING OF kings, and you in you alone do I place my trust and my allegiance. Amen.

God’s People, part 102: Nebuchadnezzar II

Read Daniel 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“I, the Lord, will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their sin. I will crush the arrogance of the proud and humble the pride of the mighty.” (Isaiah‬ ‭13:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
 Part 102: Nebuchadnezzar II. If you know your history, or payed close attention to the past devotions as of late, you are probably wondering why there would be a devotion on Nebuchadnezzar II, the fierce and mighty king of Babylon. Up until this point, I have covered the major Biblical characters (and some minor ones) who were a part of the Hebrew People. I have addressed kings, for sure, but they were Hebrew kings from either the northern Kingdom of Israel or the southern kingdom of Judah.

So, why now am I choosing to focus on a Gentile king, a king who was not born under the Torah (aka the Covenantal Law of God)? I didn’t write about Pharaoh or the king of Philistia or any other Gentile king; so, why now write about Nebuchadnezzar II? He wasn’t one of God’s people, right?

Well, if by “God’s people” one means a descendent of one of the tribes of Israel, then he or she would be correct in saying that Nebuchadnezzar II was not one of “God’s People”; however, he was one of God’s people in that he is a part of the human species, created by God in God’s holy image, just as we all are. What’s more, Daniel reveals that Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled God’s plan whether he realized it or not. While God would have never chosen for Judah to be conquered and exiled, God worked through their sinfulness a plan for redemption and reconciliation. Nebuchadnezzar was a part of that plan.

The Babylonian king was a fierce and ruthless man, full of power, authority, and ego. He conquered lands and removed the ruling classes into exile, destroyed their religious institutions, and left only the insignificant and poor behind. This was done so that there would be no resistance to his rule, because the only ones who were left behind were the ones who were in no position to resist his rule.

If you recall, Nebuchadnezzar beseiged Jerusalem after the Jewish king double-crossed him. The seige lasted for 18-30 months and was most brutal. He eventually took the city, captured King Zedekiah and had the king’s children murdered before him prior to gouging his eyes out and taking him back to Babylon to live in a dungeon until he died. Also, among the people he exiled to Babylon were Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (aka Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego).

Nebuchadnezzar was a prideful, egotistical ruler. It is this king that spared Daniel because he proved to be a useful interpreter; yet, on the other hand, he condemned Daniel’s friends to burn alive in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down and worship the king. He also ignored Daniel’s warning to humble himself and submit to the will and authority of God most High. As a result, he brought the judgment of God down upon himself.

This king, this powerful and mighty warrior, found himself in a very humbling set of circumstances. He became mentally ill and delusional, wandering the wilderness within Babylon like a wild animal, and grazed on grass while groveling in the dirt and dust. This mental illness lasted for seven long years, until the moment where Nebuchadnezzar humbled himself and acknowledged the power and authority of the one True God. Upon doing so, his kingdom was restored back under his control.

What is important to understand about Nebuchadnezzar is this, all authority in heaven and on earth exists in God almighty. There is no human, no matter how powerful, that deserves credit for what they have done. When our leaders and our rulers credit themselves for what they have done to make their nations and this world better, they are puffing themselves up above God and making idols of themselves. Worse still, they are leading countless others into idolatry, into giving the leaders the credit and the worship as opposed to God. This should be challenging to us all in that it should remind us that no human, whether leader or not and whether it be ourselves or not, should receive the credit and prasie that is due our God. Let us take that warning to heart and adjust our hearts if need be.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Jesus Christ is Lord of all and nothing can, nor will, trump Christ’s authority. Follow Christ, not the current world order.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, help me to put You first in all that I do so that I may steer clear of idolatry. Amen.

God’s People, part 98: Exiled

Read Lamentations 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine became so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land.” (2 Kings 25:3 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Circle_of_Juan_de_la_Corte_-_The_Burning_of_Jerusalem_by_Nebuchadnezzar_s_ArmyPart 98: Exiled. I always love when people say that they can’t read the Bible because it is “boring” and it “puts them to sleep.” It makes me laugh because it couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible is comprised of 66 books, within which we find genres such as history, poetry, philosophy, action, adventure, mystery, drama, romance, suspense, and certainly horror. Don’t believe me on the last one? Then let us look at the events that led to exile.

As you know, from when we discussed King Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar II besieged Jerusalem because Zedekiah had double crossed him and allied himself with Egypt. It is easy, if we are not absorbing what we are reading, to gloss over this event as if it happened in a flash and was no big deal. If we are not intentional we can read it like we read a paragraph in an American History textbook summarizing the Battle of Gettysburg.

So, if you didn’t already, I want you to read 2 Kings 25:1-21 and Lamentations 4. Read them slowly and carefully and you will, no doubt, find your skin growing cold and your blood curdle in your veins. What happened during the siege of Jerusalem is nothing short of gory horror. The terror of the people of Judah can still be felt, their screams still echoing in the collective memory we find in etched in the Bible.

Flavius Josephus (b. 37 AD – d. 100 AD), a Jewish historian who was working for the Romans, recorded that the siege lasted 18 long months. On the other hand, the author of 2 Kings tells us that Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, allowing nothing to enter nor to leave, on January 15th of the ninth year of Zedekiah’s reign. That siege didn’t end until July 18th of the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign according to the New Living Translation of the Bible. If you do the math, that means that the siege lasted somewhere between 18 and 30 months.

As you can imagine, it didn’t take long for people to starve. Lamentations paint the grisly scene in elaborate detail. If you are squeemish, you might want to skip past the next part:

The wailing of hungry children endlessly filled the air. People were begging and crawling through the garbage dumps to find anything they could to eat. The wealthy were as ragged as the poor, their faces blackened with dirt and soot. Once fattened by their wealth, they were now nothing more than walking skeletons.

The luckiest among the citizens of Jerusalem were killed by the sword or in some other violent fashion; yet, many were not so lucky. The living wasted away to nothing, slowly starving to death. Things got so desperate that the starving mothers began to cook their babies, eating the meat off of their little bones in order to survive. The Lamenter does not let us know whether the babies were alive or dead when they were cooked, but the horror of it is not something you can not easily shake off.

Boring, right? The kind of history lesson that just puts you right to sleep. Sarcasm aside, this was a horror that Jewish people still have in their collective psyche to this very day. From that point on, the Jews lost and never really gained their sovereignty back as a kingdom, minus a short century or so under the Hasmonean Dynasty. While Israel did become a nation again in 1948, the nation of Israel now bears little resemblance to the Kingdom it once was.

The city fell, Zedekiah tried to escape but he and his sons were captured. He was forced to watch his sons be slaughtered in front of his eyes, which were then gouged out of his head. He, and many of the Jewish aristocracy were exiled from their city, taken in captivity back to Babylon. The golden age of this great kingdom, the kingdom that David forged centuries earlier, was no more. The Lamenter gives us a clue as to why: “Our king—the LORD’s anointed, the very life of our nation—was caught in their snares. We had thought that His shadow would protect us against any nation on earth” (Lamentations 4:20 NLT)!

From Saul onward the Israelites placed their hopes in a human king to protect them, rather than relying on, trusting in, and obeying God. The question I would like us to reflect on is this, are we any different? Do we place our trust in God? Do we? Do we trust God enough to obey what God teaches us, or do we save the Bible for church, but place our trust in our nations’ leaders to protect and save us? In my observation, the latter seems to be the case by and large. If you are someone who places your trust in human leaders, presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, or dictators, I would like to challenge you to reflect on the Siege of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is only one Lord and Savior: Jesus Christ. All others will fall extremely short every time.

PRAYER
Lord, steer me away from putting my trust in human leaders and help me to place my trust solely in you. Amen.

Vehement Prayer

Read Psalm 137

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever. For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalms 37:27-28 NRSV)

BesideTheRiversOfBabylon_VehementPrayer2This is an incredibly hard text to deal with. I mean, what can be possible said to justify the words that we’ve just read. What can possible be said to defend the horrifying imagery that the psalmist has forever etched into our heads? What can possibly justify the killing of innocent babies and/or children? Why would that even be in the Bible? What constructive good could possibly come for such atrocious and violent rhetoric? What’s more, what can I possibly say about this text that will transform it into something relevant for our lives in today’s time?

First, I always think it is important to understand the historical context of the text before trying to understand the text itself. We are blessed with this Psalm because it actually dates itself, which gives us a really good place to start in understanding what was going on there. The psalmist opens the Psalm in the following way: “By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalms 137:1 NRSV). So we know where this Psalm takes place, “beside the rivers of Babylon”, which means that the Psalm was written by a Jew within Babylon.

What this ultimately means is that this is a Psalm that comes out of the Exilic Period in Jewish history. This period happened in three waves between 605 BCE and 538 BCE. The Exile of the Jews lasted until the Persian king, Cyrus II, decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland following the Persian takeover of Babylon a year earlier in October of 539 BCE. (NOTE: Before Common Era (BCE) years count backwards.) This means that the Psalm had to be written sometime between 605 and 539 BCE.

The dating of this Psalm is further evidenced by the fact that the psalmist is “remembering Zion, implying that it was laid to waste. What that means is that this psalmist was among those taken captive back to Babylon during the third exilic wave (July or August of 587 BCE), following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple built by Solomon. Let’s put this into perspective. When Babylon came in and seiged Jerusalem for the third time (due to Judah rebelling against King Nebuchadnezzar), they were made a bloody example of for anyone else who would dare challenge and conspire against the Babylonian Empire who they were previously conquered by and subject to.

So, to be precise, at the time of the Babylonian attack on Judah, there was an estimated population of 75,000 people living in Judah, and Jerusalem was probably much of that population being that it was the main city. Of that population, 20,000 people were deported and brought back to Babylon in exile. That’s over 25% of the population. Now, we all remember what happened on 9/11, just imagine if, on top of the attacks, 25% of all Americans were taken to another country to live.

Just put that into perspective of how horrifying, how awful, and how humiliating that must have been. Twenty-five percent! The remaining 75% were either dead, or were left in Judah to watch their countryside, villages, and the city of Jerusalem smolder, literally. Jerusalem itself, destroyed and depopulated, lay largely in ruins for the next 150 years. Many of their men, women and children were dead, the rest exiled to a foreign land or left to rot in a smoldering land, and they were the utter and absolute laughing stock of an empire.

This psalmist is letting out his or her violent reaction, and getting it out in the open, and that is perfectly okay. Does God condone violence, or dashing infants’ heads on stone? No, I do not believe that God does. Nor does this psalmist even claim that God states that. The violence in this psalm is really a vehement prayer of anguish to God and God does understand the wounded heart of the anguished psalmist and of all people who suffer injustice and pain. God not only understands the oppressed, but stands in solidarity with them, working to bring about justice to those who are suffering under the weight of evil.

It is important for us to know that it is okay if we cry out vehemently to God when we are desperate for justice, for God knows our pain and is working to bring about justice in our situations and in the world. What’s more, we are also challenged to check to see where our own allegiances lie. Are we standing in solidarity with the oppressed, just as God is, or are we among the oppressors who are adding insult to injury? In the end, justice ALWAYS prevails. It did eventually in Babylon, and it will in our world too. Evaluate yourself. Which side are you on?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Prayer is the tearing open of your rib cage so that your heart can breathe.” – Rob Bell
PRAYER
Lord, hear my own vehement prayers anguish and also lead me to become an answered prayer for those who suffer. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 5

Read Jeremiah 31:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25, NLT)

jer4-weeping-prophetJeremiah stood there in the midst of the city. Everything had been destroyed and burned to the ground. The houses were smoldering furnaces with smoke billowing to the heavens. Corpses were lying everywhere and the stench of decay filled the air. Jerusalem had her share of sorrows in the past, but they all paled in comparison with the Babylonian seige.

The Temple was in ruins and not one stone remained on top of the other. The holy place of God was a ransacked pile of rubble, laid to waste by the gentile Babylonians. The survivors were left without their Temple, without their homes, without the property, and without anyone of their spiritual leaders. King Zedekiah, his cabinet of advisors, his family, his priests and all of the leaders and their families were all exiled from Jerusalem and taken back to Babylon as spoils of the war. The future of Judah, the future of Jerusalem, were uncertain.

Jeremiah stood there that day, having been released from the prison by order of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II. He was imprisoned by King Zedekiah for speaking out against the corruption of the King and the king’s government. Nebuchadnezzar had him released because word reached him that there was a prophet who prophesied in Babylon’s favor. Jeremiah stood there, horrified at the site of the utter and complete destruction, and he wept.

“If only they had listened,” he thought to himself. “If only they had turned from their wickedness, from their corruption, from their greed, they would have avoided all of this. How many innocent lives had been destroyed by the evil perpetrated by those who refused to live justly, who refused to love mercy, and who refused to walk humbly with their God?

But as sad Jeremiah was that day, he was not without hope for he knew that God was not the God of eternal judgment but the God of endless and ever abounding grace! God would not abandon the people of Judah, but would be working to bring them home and to restore them back to the people they were created to be. God would be showing them forgiveness and working toward reconciliation. This was not so just in spirit and in truth, but through the leadership of those who were still open to God’s wisdom and guidance; through the leadership of people like Jeremiah and those who followed him.

What is important for us to gather from Jeremiah and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians is that GOD is not the GOD OF WRATH, but the GOD OF GRACE. When looking at the wrath of God, ask yourself this question: Is God reigning wrath down on the people? Even if it is being articulated that way by the Biblical authors, is that really what is going on? Or is the wrath of God, properly speaking, the natural consequences to the evil that people perpetuate? People may get away with being wicked for so long, but eventually (as the phrase suggests), “every dog has its day.”

What’s even more important to glean from this narrative, is that while we do often bring the wrath of our actions down upon our heads, God never gives up hope on us. God is always forgiving us, always working to restore us back to a place of righteousness, and always working to reconcile us with God and with our neighbor. In wrath, in the natural consequences of our sinful and evil actions, there is still GREAT HOPE. Today’s challenge is to see the hope in the consequences we, and the world, are facing today and to begin to be God’s mouthpiece for the proclamation of the Good News of God’s reconciliation and restoration!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“The work of community, love, reconciliation, restoration is the work we cannot leave up to politicians. This is the work we are all called to do.” – Shane Claiborne

PRAYER
Lord, help me to not only seek justice, but to seek reconciliation for myself and for others. Amen.

Breath of God

Read Genesis 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

15542680The Bible tells us that in the beginning, the earth was a formless void. All that existed was darkness which covered the face of the deep. Then something miraculous happened. God’s breath (Hebrew: rûach, pronounced roo-akh’; Greek: pneuma, pronounced pnyoo’-mah) wisped like a wind over the waters, which in the ancient world were seen as chaos, and God spoke: “Let there be light.” From that moment on nothing remained the same. From the chaos came order, from the darkness came light, from the void came wholeness, and from the formless came form. All of this from series of simple, yet powerful WORDS.

The creation story was written by priestly Jewish scribes during the Babylonian exile (ca 587 – 538 BCE) in a time when the people of Judah had nearly lost their entire identity. There land and titles were stripped from them, they were yanked from their homeland and forced to live in Babylon as subjects of King Nebuchadnezzar II, their temple was utterly destroyed and their identity as a people chosen by God nearly crushed! Yet, these scribes sat down and penned the creation story in order to impart this message of hope: “The same God who created order out of chaos, the same God that formed the formless, the same God that breathed life into the lifeless can certainly bring order to the chaos of our captivity.”

In the Gospel of John, written about 638 years after the end of the Babylonian exile, we see God’s Word bringing new hope and new creativity into the world. John tells us that this same Word of God that created the  universe and all that is in it, this same Word of God that brought order to the chaos, this same Word of God became flesh and walked among us in a man called Jesus of Nazareth. The living breath of God had come alive in another person and this particular person would bring the hope of God’s presence, as well as order, into a world plagued with chaos.

As can be seen in the Bible, Words are extremely powerful. Just like water which is shown to be a force of chaos and destruction as much as it is shown to be a force of life, Words can be both destructive as well as creative. How often, we as human beings use words in careless ways and with reckless abandon. How often we take our words for granted without giving them even a second thought. How often we have been hurt by words as well as uplifted by them. How often we have hurt others with our words as well as brought healing with them.

In creation, God chose those creative words carefully. God poured all of Godself into those words and as a result, we are filled with the living breath or spirit of God. In life, Jesus of Nazareth also chose his words carefully, using them to bring hope, healing and wholeness to those who need. He used words that destructively worked against systems of oppression, corruption, greed, and injustice.

As children of God, as followers of Jesus, we are being challenged to use our words wisely. We are being challenged to be a people who treat our words, and the breath that forms them, exactly as they are: SACRED. Our breath and our words (spoken, written or even thought) are gifts from God, not to be taken lightly or to be used thoughtlessly and/or with reckless abandon. We should be using our words to breathe life into people. We should be using our words, like Jesus, to bring God’s hope, healing and wholeness in the world. When need be we should use our words as a way to counteract systems of oppression and injustice. In the name of God, by the power of Christ, speak your words to those who need to hear them!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Every time we breathe we are breathing in God’s breath of life.

PRAYER

Lord, put on my lips your words so that I may speak hope, healing and wholeness to all in need. Amen.