Tag Archives: Judah

God’s People, part 111: Zerubbabel

Read Ezra 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“But when this happens, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, I will honor you, Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, My servant. I will make you like a signet ring on My finger, says the LORD, for I have chosen you. I, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” (Haggai 2:23 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.

ZerubbabelPart 111: Zerubbabel. By now, you are probably wondering who this “Zerubbabel” was, right? His name has come up here and there over the past several devotions, with little to no explanation as to who he was. Zerubbabel was a Jew born in Babylon during the Babylonian captivity. If the name has its origin in Hebrew, perhaps a contraction of the Hebrew word זְרוּעַ בָּבֶל (pronounced Zərua‘ Bāvel), it means “The one sown in Babylon”. Similarly, if it is Assyrian-Babylonian in origin, it means “seed of Babylon”. It could also come from the Hebrew זְרוּי בָּבֶל (pronounced Zərûy Bāvel), meaning “the winnowed of Babylon”. The latter would refer to the fact that, under the leadership of Zerubbabel, the Jews were sifted through from exile in Babylon to freedom in their homeland.

Whatever the origin of his name might be, Zerubbabel was clearly born in exile in Babylon. Beyond that fact, he was also the grandson of the second to last king of Judah, Jehoiachin. This is the king, if you remember,  who was eighteen when he took the throne and who only reigned for a total three months and ten days before being dethroned and exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II. He was succeeded by his uncle, Zedekiah, who rebuffed Jeremiah’s warnings and  ultimately led all of Jerusalem down a path of destruction and exile.

Zerubbabel, quite ironically, was appointed to return lead the first wave of Jews back to their homeland by the Persian king Cyrus in the first year of his reign over Babylon. He was also appointed of governor of the Persian province of Judah. Thus, the grandson of the first king to be exiled to Babylon was appointed to be the governor of his people and to lead the first wave of his people home.

Zerubbabel was also the governor under whom the foundation for the second temple was laid. He was, if you remember, given the charge of rebuilding the Temple. With that said, he was also not successful in rebuilding that temple due to the opposition that he and the High Priest Jeshua (pronounced Yesh-oo-ah) faced. Instead of sticking with the plan, Zerubbabel became mired in endless diplomatic measures to get everyone involved on the same page. The result: NOTHING, NADA, ZILCH. The Temple was not rebuilt under his leadership and would not be rebuilt until Nehemiah, who did not make the same mistakes, took his place.

The challenge for us here is to realize how often we let the circumstances around us to pull us away from what God is asking us to do. For example, in churches we often weigh the “liability” of a ministry over and above the need for it. Are we supposed to NOT do something just because we could find ourselves liable? Is that how Jesus operated? Is that how the prophets operated? Then why do operate that way?

What’s more, we do the same thing individually. “Well,” one might muse, “I would be more involved in this or that ministry if I had more time…or money…or personal connection with those who are apart of it.” Another might allow politics or personal views to step in the way of their faithfulness to Christ. Let us be challeneged to resist such diversions and to be faithful to God’s plan to impact the world through RE-CREATION, rather than allowing the world to impact and recreate us in its own image.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Diversions from Christ’s mission are the devil’s playground, turf from which we should steer clear.

PRAYER
Lord, help us to remain focused on and faithful to you through Jesus Christ. Amen.

God’s People, part 106: Darius

Read Ezra 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭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 106: Darius. King Darius I of Perisa (aka Darius the Great) is yet another example how history is weaved in and throughout the Bible. While the Bible does not offer too much background information on Darius, he is one fo the Persian kings mentioned in Ezra and was an ancient ruler of historical significance. Darius was an influential king during the rise of the Persian Empire, especially in regard to the Jews exiled in Babylon. In fact, he brought the empire to its peak.

While an entire volume could be written on Darius. In fact, several volumes have been written on Darius. If you are a history buff and you are interested in getting a more in depth view of Darius’ life, you can search for “Darius the Great” on Amazon.com and if you have an Amazon Kindle, or the Kindle App and are a Prime member, you can download one of the books, “Darius the Great: Makers of History”. Otherwise, there are plenty of options that come up in the search results.

As for the purpose of this devotion, I will focus on a brief summary of Darius and how he is significant in the history of God’s people. Darius was born in 550 CE, forty-eight years following the first deportation (which included Daniel and his friends), forty-seven years following the second deportation, thirty-seven years following the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and third wave of deportations, and thirty-three years following a possible fourth wave of deportations. What’s important to note here is that the Babylonian Exile happened in waves spanning a time period of 15 years. Think about the devastating effects that would have on a people and/or a nation.

Darius was born into a noble family, but not one of royal blood. His father was a governor and was given the title of “king” (a fancy title for governor) of one of the Persian Provinces, and served under Cyrus the Great, who was king of the entire Persian Achaemenid Empire. While governors got the title of “king”, Cyrus was THE KING and was also known as Great King and King of kings. It can also be said that Darius was not trusted by Cyrus who had a dream that Darius was king of the whole world. The dream was seen as an omen that Darius had treasonous plans. As such, Cyrus sent Darius’ father back to Persis, where Darius lived, to closely watch over his son.

While Darius did not end up trying to immediately usurp the heir to the throne, Cyrus’ dream did become a reality and Darius became king, under suspicious circumstances, at the age of 28. Because he became king suspiciously, a number of rebellions rose up against him throughout the empire and he successfully put an end to them within a year as his powerful army was loyal to him. Following that, he focused the beginning part of his reign on strengthening and expanding his empire and began a successful campaign to conquer and control Egypt. In 516 CE he also invaded the Indus Valley, and by 515 CE had conquered that land and expanded his empire going as far east as what is now known as Pakistan.

Following those campaigns he turned his sights on Babylon, which had been conquered early by the Persian King Cyrus the Great (at a later point) but were rebelling against the empire. It his here where Darius the Great enters in to the Biblical narrative. He, of course, quelled the Babylonian revolt and ruled over Babylon in the same way that Cyrus had. Though a devout follower of Zoarastrianism, Darius, and his successors, were extremely tolerant and allowed for others to have religious and cultural freedoms so long as they were submissive to his rule and peaceable. This historical fact is clearly reflected in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.

Like Cyrus before him, Darius gained the respect of the Jewish people under his rule. Cyrus had permitted Jews, if they wished, to return home to Jerusalem and to begin to rebuild the holy city and its temple. To ensure that happened, Darius gave funding to help the efforts of rebuilding of the Jewish Temple. While he was not a Jew, nor did he worship the Jewish God, he certainly showed respect for their people and their God, just as he did toward the Egyptians and to the Greeks who allied with him (though the Greeks eventually united and defeated him at the Battle of Marathon, which set up the events of the film 300 about the 300 Spartan warriors led into battle by King Leonidas at Thermopylae against Darius’ son (who’s believed to be Esther’s husband) Xerxes I.

This goes to show us that God can and does work through anyone. The Persian King Darius was no observer of the Jewish religion, and yet he had a respect for the Jews and their religion and, as such, became the vehicle through which God fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy that one day God would bring the Jewish people back home as shepherd leads his or her sheep (Jeremiah 31:10). The challenge for us is to remember that all the children of the earth are God’s people, whether they realize it or not, for God created them and loves and can work through them. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

There is no one, and nothing, that can separate us from the love that God has for us.

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be less judgmental and more open to see your handiwork in the world. Amen.

God’s People, part 79: Jotham

Read 2 Kings 15:32-38; 2 Chronicles 27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Uzziah was the father of Jotham. Jotham was the father of Ahaz. Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.” (Matthew 1:9 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.

Uzziah_-_Jotham_-_AhazPart 79: Jotham. Different people see things differently and history is always in the point of view of the historian. This is true in the Bible, as much as it is in any historical account. No matter how objective people try to be, they cannot completely shake their biases and/or agendas. This is human nature. We are subjects that try to be objective; however, subjectivity and objectivity are not the same and we can never fully know anything objectively due to our subjectivity.

This is seen in the accounts of King Jotham, son of King Uzziah. The first eleven years of his rule, he was a co-regent ruling along side of his father. Of course, it is inaccurate to say “along side” because his father was living in isolation due to having contracted leprosy. Thus, essentially, Jotham was ruling in his father’s place due to his illness.

The Chronicler records that Jotham did what was pleasing in God’s sight. It is also recorded in Chronicles that he did everything that his father had done as King, with the exception of making the same mistakes. Thus, Jotham learned from his father’s arrogance and did not repeat it. He did not think himself holy enough to enter the inner sanctuary of the Temple and burn incense to the Lord, disregarding the authority and role of the High Priest, as his father had foolishly done.

With that said, 2 Kings presents a more cynical account of his reign. While he may not have followed in his father’s footsteps in terms of his arrogance, it seems that he followed his father in some of his policies. For instance the author of 2 Kings writes, “Jotham did what was pleasing in the LORD’s sight. He did everything his father, Uzziah, had done. But he did not destroy the pagan shrines, and the people still offered sacrifices and burned incense there. He rebuilt the upper gate of the Temple of the LORD.” (2 Kings 15:34-35)

Thus, even while he was building gates to the Temple of the LORD, he was permitting idolatry to persist in the land. The consequences to that were not immediate; however, over time Judah fell further and further away from their devotion to God. What Jotham, and those before him, did not realize was that future generations would begin to reject the prophets of God and would eventually face devastating defeat and exile at the hands of their enemies.

This was not God’s doing, it was their own. This is a powerful lesson for us as well. We are always being invited to destroy and abolish the idols that take precedent in our lives. We are being called to clean house within us and we are being called to turn our hearts back to God. We are being invited back toward faithfulness to the one true God, in whom there is peace, love, joy, hope, wholeness, and eternal life. Failure to do so, failure to put our full trust in Jesus Christ, is to choose our own way over God’s way. Sadly, our way leads to sin, to exile, and to death. Let us choose Christ and turn back to God and to the everlasting life God is offering us.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Jesus Christ gives us the power to be defiant to sin and death.

PRAYER
Lord, forgive me for my unfaithfulness. Keep me on the narrow pathway, and lead me in through the gateway to your kingdom. Amen.

God’s People, part 78: Uzziah

Read 2 Chronicles 26

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat. Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram. Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.” (Matthew 1:8 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 van Rijn, 1606-1669; King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy (?)Part 78: Uzziah.  Uzziah, as he was known to the author of 2 Chronicles, or Azariah as he was known to the author of 2 Kings, was king in the ancient kingdom of Judah. He was 16 years old, if you can imagine that, when he became king. The first 24 years of his reign he shared as co-regent with his father, King Amaziah. The remaining 28 years following his father’s death he ruled as the sole king of Judah. Thus, King Uzziah was ruler of Judah for a total of 52 years. Quite a reign for a king in the ancient world.

Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles state that Uzziah had ruled Judah well and that he had “what was right in the sight of the LORD.” The Chronicler (aka the person/people who wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles) wrote that the king followed the instruction of a spiritual menor named Zechariah, not to be confused with the prophet who wrote the eponymous book in the Hebrew Scriptures. According to the Chronicler, Zechariah imparted the visions and deep respect of the LORD to the king.

While this spiritual mentor lived, Uzziah sought the guidance of God through Zechariah. He declared war against the Philistines, the Arabs of Gur, and the Meunites. He was able to get the latter group to pay Judah an annual tribute in order to maintain peace. As a result of this, he had become a very powerful and influential king the his fame spread to even Egypt. His army was massive, his fortifications were improved upon, and Judah was a force to be reckoned with.

As a result, the king’s pride and ego grew with his power and fame. This should not be surprising for it is nothing new. His pride and his ego led to his ultimate downfall. He wrongfully entered the sanctuary of the LORD, where only the high priest was permitted to enter, and personally burned incense on God’s altar. The high priest, along with eighty other brave priests, called him out on his egotistical sin. They told him to get out of God’s sanctuary, but the king was furious and refused to listen.

As a result, he broke out with leprosy, an infectious skin disease that rendered him unfit to rule, unfit to live in the palace, and unclean (which would have banned him from the Temple altogether). His son, Jotham of Judah, took over as “co-regent”. Though his father was still seen as king to the end of his life, it was his son who really began to rule at that point onward. Uzziah’s pride got the best of him; however, he was still one of God’s chosen kings and one of God’s people. The proof of this would come approximately 738 years when, as Matthew records, Uzziah’s descendant was born. That descendant, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of God.

Let us learn a lesson from King Uzziah. We, who are God’s people, find ourselves empowered by the Holy Spirit when we are open to the guidance and the presence of the LORD. With that said, when we allow our pride and/or our egos to take the place of God, we can find ourselves facing unintended consequences for our corrupted hearts and actions. Those consequences are brought on by ourselves; however, they do not remove us from the grace, the love, and the ultimate mercy of our Lord and Savior. Let us be a people who, rather than go down the hard road of unintended consequences, keep our egos in check and remain fully dependent on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes [people] as angels.” – Saint Augustine

PRAYER
Lord, humble me and fill me with your Holy Spirit so that I may grow in my dependence in you and rely on your guidance to lead me to where you are calling. Amen.

God’s People, part 65: Kings of Judah

Read 1 Kings 15:1-24

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me.” (Matthew 23:37 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.

The_Burning_of_Jerusalem_by_Nebuchadnezzars_Army_by_Circle_of_Juan_de_la_CortePart 65: Kings of Judah. The Kingdom of Judah was established when the tribe of Judah hailed David as their King, following the death of Saul. Eventually, David was able to unite all of the twelve tribes together under his rule, which formed the United Kingdom of Israel; however, the unity was ultimately short-lived. Following the death of Solomon, Jeroboam led the ten tribes in revolt against Solomon’s son Rehoboam. That resulted in the split between those ten tribes that supported Jeroboam and the 2 tribes (Judah and Benjamin) that were loyal to Rehoboam and the Davidic line.

Thus, Jeroboam’s kingdom kept the name “Israel”, while Rehoboam’s Kingdom reestablished itself as the Kingdom of Judah. As was discussed in an earlier devotion, Rehoboam ended up not being the ideal king. He was weak and he felt entitled. He increased the tax burden of his subjects and abused his authority as king. He doubled down on the harshness of his father and boasted about it. What’s more, he continued his father’s practice of idolatry.

His son, Abijah, succeeded him and, unfortunately followed in his father’s footsteps. Despite all of that, there was much more stability in the early years of the Judah’s reestablisment than there was in the Kingdom of Israel. That is mainly because of the power, money, and prominence the Kingdom of Judah had. The stronghold of Jerusalem, the Temple which drew countless people from around the world, and other factors helped to give Judah the advantage. Still, due to the corruption of its political and religious leaders, Judah was not able to stay in such privileged times for that long.

There were 20 kings following the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Judah, starting with Rehoboam. Out of those 20 kings, only 5 were deemed righteous in God’s sight, according to the Bible. Those kings were, King Asa (1 Kings 15:11; 2 Chronicles 14:2), King Jehoshaphat (2 Chornicles 17:3-4), King Jotham (2 King 15:34; 2 Chronicles 27:2), King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:5; 2 Chronicles 29:2), and King Josiah (2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chronicles 34:2). That is it! Out of 20 kings, only ¼ of them were good and did what was pleasing in the sight of God. The rest were corrupt tyrants who cared little for the people they ruled and cared most for their own grip on power and wealth.

When we look around at the history of humanity we can see this trend with our own eyes. Most of our politicians and leaders, while they are not totally evil, compromise what’s right in order to attain what advantages them the most. The truth be told, this is not just a fault of our leaders but of people in general. Rather than loving the LORD our God with all of our hearts, and seeking God first in all that we do, we tend to seek out our own way and our own path.

This often leads us down paths that end up hurting us and others; yet, just as with the people of Judah and the Davidic line, God does not abandon us even when we abandon God. The truth be told that, despite all of our unfaithfulness, God remains faithful to us. Even when we face the wages of our sin, God is there trying to lead us out of the darkness and into the light.

Just as through a twisted lineage of broken, despotic kings God brought salvation into the world through Jesus Christ, so too can God work in, through and in spite of us even when we are not always in line with God. Let us reflect on that and stand in awe of a God who will not be trumped by our sin. Let us praise our God who does not give up on us, despite the fact that we often forget and/or give up on God. Let us praise God who, despite our brokenness, provides us The Way to salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Though the Davidic line ruled the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem, Jesus the Messiah (who was of the Davidic line), was raised in Nazareth, a city in what was once the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hence the response of Nathanael, who was from Bethsaida in Judah, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

PRAYER
Lord, thank you for your undying faithfulness. Continue to lead me and have mercy on me, as sinner. Amen.

God’s People, part 18: Judah

Read Genesis 38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.’” (Revelation‬ ‭5:5‬ ‭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 18: Judah. In the last devotion, I spent a bit of time talking about Tamar and how she was truly mistreated by Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah. Prior to that, it was discussed that Judah was among the eleven brothers who ganged up on their younger brother Joseph out of jealousy and annoyance. We will be discussing more about Joseph in the next devotion; however, suffice it to say that we have not seen Judah in a very positive light up to this point.

As mentioned above, Judah was the fourth son between Jacob and Leah (who we also talked earlier in this series). While he did not live a perfect life and did not always treat people justly, it would be wrong to only speak of him as if he were some sort of epitome of evil. Judah was, for the most part, a product of his time; however, he was also someone who would go on to become very important in the founding of the Jewish people and he was someone whom God ultimately loved despite his shortcomings.

So let us look at this man named Judah and see exactly who he was and how he became the father of God’s anointed. It was Judah, along with the his ten other brothers, that ganged up on their little brother Joseph after he flaunted how favored he was one too many times; however, while his other brothers were going to kill him, it was Judah who convinced them that it would be better to sell him off to a caravan and make a profit off of him. While this act was not completely selfless, it also was not completely heartless either.

I would like to believe, and there is no reason not to, that Judah did not wish to see his brother killed no matter how annoying he was. Still, regardless, Judah led his other brothers in doing something that was both egregious and wrong. They sold Joseph to some caravan of nomadic strangers in order to make a profit off of him and rid themselves of him once and for all. Certainly, this is not the course of action that people of God ought to take, yet they took it.

Again, in the case of Tamar, Judah acted in a way that is truly unworthy of being one of God’s people. He arranged for his oldest son, Er, to marry Tamar; however, Er was a wicked person who met an untimely death due to his wickedness. So, as was customary in that culture, Tamar was married off to Er’s next of kin (his younger brother, Onan). When Onan died as a result of his wickedness, Tamar was left childless and at the mercy of Judah who sent her back home to her family to await being married to Judah’s youngest son, Shelah.

But Judah did not intend to marry his son off to Tamar, who he saw as being under God’s curse. Instead of honoring his promise, and his cultural duty as a father-in-law, he brought shame upon Tamar and, ultimately, upon God; yet, Tamar took matters into her own hands and ended up impregnated by Judah, who was tricked into thinking Tamar was a prostitute. When Judah found out she was pregnant with another person’s child, he was going to have her killed. Nice, right? Judah expected Tamar to remain celebrate for his youngest son whom he refused to allow to marry her. Real smooth.

However, when discovers that he was the father of the children she had conceived, he did something that made him truly one of God’s people. He realized that he was the one who was shameful, not Tamar, and he recanted and begged for forgiveness. What’s more, God blessed Tamar and her children, and it is through Tamar that the Jews can trace their ancestry to Judah and, ultimately, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Even more than that, Judah became the tribe from which the kings would rise up out of.

So, while human sin is certainly messy and ugly, this story shows us how God’s plan of redemption carries on in spite of it. After all, it is from Judah that one day would come the Anointed One, the Messiah, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah. It is from this imperfect man, and his wife Tamar, that God would ultimately bring salvation from sin and death into the world in the form of a perfect, innocent baby boy. It is through the vindication of an oppressed woman and the children she bore a man named Judah, that would come Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh, the light come into this dark world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

God is love and, as such, LOVE WINS. Nothing can stop the redemption plan of God.

PRAYER

Lord, I repent of my sins and seek your redemption. Humble me and transform me. Amen.

God’s People, part 17: Tamar

Read Genesis 38

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” (Ruth‬ ‭4:12‬ ‭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 17: Tamar. There are many strange stories in the Bible, perhaps one of those stories at the top of the list is the story of Tamar. There are many elements of the story that are strange, and many elements that get highlighted by antitheists and skeptics alike to prove that God is nothing more than a fairytale dreamt up by simple minded ancients seeking to explain why things happen the way they do. Yet, like all things, one must first understand the context first before one can leap ahead to any such conclusion.

Tamar, like all of the women we have looked at thus far, is a woman of her times. She was born into a highly patriarchal society that valued the men over the women. What’s more, a woman who could not (for whatever reason) produce heirs to the male lineage of the family, were of no use to the patriarchal family structure. On top of that, any woman who could not produce children was seen to be under God’s curse (since this was her “natural” function and reason of exisiting) and was considered a stain upon her marriage and a shame upon her family.

Tamar’s case was slightly different, because it wasn’t that she was barren and unable to have children; rather, it was that her husband died before she could conceive a child. In that day and age, if such circumstances happened, the woman was to sleep with the next oldest brother of the husband so that the woman could bear a child. This was not so much out of courtesy to the woman (for what woman would want to have sex with her husband’s brother in normal circumstances), but a courtesy to the deceased husband who would not be able to have an heir of his own.

So, Tamar was married off to Onan, the second oldest brother; however, Onan didn’t want Tamar to have his brother Er’s children, he wanted his own kids. So he performed what is known as coitus interruptus or, as people know it today, the “pull out” method of birth control. In other words, he was having sex with his brother’s wife but “pulling out” before he could ejaculate and impregnate her (too much information, I know). The Bible says that, for doing this, Onan was seen as being wicked in the judgment of God and died prematurely.

Good news for Tamar, right? Wrong. Judah (the same Judah who was involved in selling his brother Joseph off as a slave) refused to have Tamar married off to his youngest son, for he saw her as being under God’s curse. In other words, rather than seeing his sons for what they were, namely wicked in God’s sight, he instead placed the blame on Tamar who had done absolutely nothing wrong. Tamar was told to go back to her parents home (which would have brought her “shame” upon them) and to wait until the youngest brother could marry her; however, as was indicated above, Judah had no intentions of ever letting his youngest marry this woman.

Tamar waited and waited, but Judah’s youngest son Shelah never came calling. This is when Tamar took things into her own hands. Knowing that Judah was recently widowed himself, she disguised herself as a prostitute and deceived Judah, who did not recognize her because she was not wearing her “widow’s clothes” that allowed men to know she had been married and also had herself veiled. When he called upon her “services”, she slept with him and conceived a child by him, thus eliminating her shame.

The question here for us is, why did Tamar have to prostitute herself out in order to have children? Was this fair, or right, or just? Prostitution is obviously sinful because it is the selling of sex, which is sacred, to make a profit out of giving another physical pleasure and because it exploits human beings and uses them as a means to an end (e.g. sexual pleasure). Yet, what about Judah’s sin? What about the sin of discarding a human being as worthless? What about the sin of patriarchy, which values one sex over the other? As can be seen in this story, God does not stand for such injustice and Tamar is the one who is honored by God, while Judah is the one who is ashamed.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

In the face of patriarchy, it is a brave act indeed for both men and women to embrace, rather than shame or attempt to eradicate, the feminine.” – Alanis Morissette 

PRAYER

Lord, help me to be upright and just, not valuing anyone more than another for any reason, whether it be their sex, their gender, their color, their creed or any other thing. 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 3

Read Jeremiah 6:1-19

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let Me. And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate.” (Matthew 23:37-38 NLT)

Destruction_of_JerusalemJeremiah looked at his beloved Judah, and his beloved Jerusalem, and all he could feel was his anger, his rage toward what it had become. Coming from the tribe of Benjamin, Jeremiah was born in a priestly family and was called by God to be a prophet. Though reluctant at first, Jeremiah soon found that he could not turn away God’s call, for it burned like a wildfire within him.

Jeremiah was called to be a prophet around a year after King Josiah reformed Jerusalem and banned any form of idol worship. The king had tried to bring Judah back to a true and pure worship of God and he established the Temple of Jerusalem as the ONLY temple that God could be worshipped in. Following his death in a battle at Megiddo against Egypt, Judah quickly returned to its wicked ways.

The people of Judah and Jerusalem fell back into idol worship as a result of weak and corrupt leadership. The leaders themselves were corrupt politicians, greedy, murderous, and totally lacking the moral and ethical compasses needed for true leadership. The desparity between the ruling class and the poor grew wider and wider and the shepherds (aka the leaders) of God’s people were more or less wolves in disguise. They weren’t caring for or protecting the people, they were milking and raping them of all they had. What’s worse, the priests and religious leaders were corrupt as well, and supported these elitist, tyrannical rulers with the authority of their religious office. By doing this, the priests were explicitly giving the rulers “God’s blessing” to continue in their corruption.

This incensed Jeremiah. He was furiously beside himself and could not contain the fire that was raging inside. “I’m filled with the Lord’s rage,” Jeremiah shouted, “and am tired of holding it in” (Jeremiah 6:11). In the suggested reading, one sees Jeremiah go through an entire rant about how angry God is and that God would not sit idly by and do nothing in regard to the wickedness of Judah. God was going to bring wrath upon their heads. Their cities would be leveled. Their people would be exiled. Smoke would be seen from miles to remind everyone of what happens when you stray and embrace wickedness. Jeremiah’s rant is harsh, and much of it is spoken as being the very words of God.

Outside of the context, it is very easy for us to read that and take the words literally. In fact, some Christians do believe that God is an angry God who punishes the wicked for their wrong doings. They even wrongfully use such words in judgment against groups of people they disagree with, labeling them as “wicked” and blaming catastrophic events on their wickedness.What’s more, anti-theists will often point to such verses as a reason that religion needs to go. And it is no wonder why, what kind of perfect God throws such temper-tantrums and wipes out entire peoples.

Yet, let us not lose sight that this is Jeremiah speaking. He may be doing so on behalf of God, but he is not God. Let us also not lose sight that Jeremiah is extremely angry, and rightfully so, at the corruption and injustice of Judah’s leaders. It’s not all that different from the anger many are feeling today at the corruption of our American leaders and the injustice that is spreading throughout our land. Jeremiah is, quite frankly, ticked off at this and, rightfully, is pointing out that God is really, really angry too. In fact, God’s anger is what is fueling his anger!

With that said, Jeremiah also provides us words that permit us to interpret this text more responsibly. He words it that way but also proclaims, “Listen, all the earth! I will bring disaster on My people. It is the fruit of their own schemes, because they refuse to listen to Me. They have rejected My word” (Jeremiah 6:19 NLT). In other words, God’s wrath is ultimately the natural and often unintended consequences of evil and wickedness having their effect upon a people who have brought such consequences upon themselves.

As we will see later on, God does not just display wrath but also mercy, forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Yet, I do not want to put the cart before the horse. Today’s challenge, then, is for us to reflect on God’s wrath. Reflect on the wickedness in our own hearts, the wickedness in the world, and the evil that is carried out on a daily basis. Reflect on the natural consequences of such wickedness and evil. Read the suggested reading, feel God’s and Jeremiah’s pain, and reflect upon it. Allow it to pierce your heart and move you to change as well as turn you into an agent, a prophet, of change.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“This is the very worst wickedness, that we refuse to acknowledge the passionate evil that is in us. This makes us secret and rotten.” – D. H. Lawrence

PRAYER
Lord, help me to move away from wickedness and injustice and to speak out against it as well. Amen.