Proverbs 02 – A Quest for Wisdom

Chosing the right path from every good path.

I have a toddler who transitioned to a big girl bed last week and has decided napping is for the birds.  Also, she is sick but still refusing to nap, which means she needs to be constantly held and my productive time has dropped to practically zero.  There’s worse things than having to snuggle my baby all day, but I am taking longer to finish new blog posts.  Here’s one I was working on earlier for just this sort of situation.  I’ll be back to Genesis on Sunday-hopefully!!!

***

My son, if you accept my words
    and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
    and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
    and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
    and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
    and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds success in store for the upright,
    he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
    and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just
    and fair—every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
    and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you,
    and understanding will guard you.
12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
    from men whose words are perverse,
13 who have left the straight paths
    to walk in dark ways,
14 who delight in doing wrong
    and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
15 whose paths are crooked
    and who are devious in their ways.
16 Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
    from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
17 who has left the partner of her youth
    and ignored the covenant she made before God.
18 Surely her house leads down to death
    and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
19 None who go to her return
    or attain the paths of life.
20 Thus you will walk in the ways of the good
    and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will live in the land,
    and the blameless will remain in it;
22 but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
    and the unfaithful will be torn from it.

 

Oh, look!  Second chapter of Proverbs and one of the early verses says we are to search for wisdom as we look for silver and hidden treasure! There again, is Wisdom as a commodity (as referenced in my first Proverbs post).  But this chapter is really calling us on a quest, isn’t it?  We are to “search for [Wisdom] as for hidden treasure” (2:4), and from there on out it reads like the summary of an adventure movie.  We, the heroes of the story, will come across wicked men on crooked paths and temptresses, carrying the shield of the Lord, protected by Discretion- which, by the way, is a way cooler word when capitalized.

But you know what this implies? It implies that we will have to walk through dangerous places.  We will come to crossroads where we must chose the “paths of the righteous” (2:20) or the “dark ways” (2:13) and “paths to the spirits of the dead” (2:18).  It is at these dangerous crossroads that Wisdom will be able to exercise her power on our behalf.

Some of these choices, to be sure, are more obvious.  Taking a newly sober person to a bar is a terrible idea.  As Jesus says in Luke 17:2, “It would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and to be thrown into the sea than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”

But some of these choices may not be as obvious.  Parenting is a great example of this.  Sometimes it seems like nothing you do is right – breastfeeding or bottle feeding?  Stopping breastfeeding at 6 months? 12 months? Four years? You’re going to get flak from somebody no matter what choice you make.  And you know what the right answer is? The one that is right for you (and in this case, your child).  This chapter doesn’t say there is only one good path, but references “every good path.” (2:9)  But sometimes, having so many options can make it harder.  These moments – when Google has fifteen conflicting answers based on which Reddit conversation you chose, when your mom tells you one thing but your best friend another, when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the possibilities – this is when  you need to be “turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding.” (2:2) Do it how you will and call it what you want: praying, meditating, maybe even just setting aside some time for list-making, but do it with intention and an open mind, and I believe God will recognize that intent.  Because, as this chapter tells us, if you “call out for insight, and cry aloud for understanding,” (2:3) then you will “find the knowledge of God” (2:5).  We live in an age of unparalleled information, but God can still help us find wisdom.

Genesis 13 – Prosperity Theology?

An exercise in acceptance.

So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.

Now Lot, who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. But the land could not support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great that they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram’s herders and Lot’s. The Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land at that time.

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herders and mine, for we are close relatives. Is not the whole land before you? Let’s part company. If you go to the left, I’ll go to the right; if you go to the right, I’ll go to the left.”

10 Lot looked around and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)11 So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east. The two men parted company: 12 Abram lived in the land of Canaan, while Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom. 13 Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.

14 The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. 15 All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. 16 I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. 17 Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”

18 So Abram went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he pitched his tents. There he built an altar to the Lord.

What do you all think about Prosperity Theology?  You know, Joel Osteen and preachers like him that say God wants us to be prosperous, and we can do so through a faithful attitude, positive thinking and prayer, and donations to the church.  I ask because this chapter, and the chapter immediately preceding, are strong arguments for it.  We are told right at the beginning of the chapter “Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and silver and gold.” (13:2) “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever,” God says to Abram in 13:15. And last chapter, God blesses Abram “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great.” (12:2)  That’s a three-fold blessing, people, that’s serious stuff.

I’m uncomfortably comfortable with much of Prosperity Theology, if that makes any sense.  Yes, I definitely think some of it is exploitative and asking those with very little to donate more, more, more when the preacher’s second house is worth almost three million bucks (that’s right, Joel Osteen’s second home is worth that much, his first home is worth over ten million). Also, I think it ignores or tries to gloss over a lot of the bad things that happen-not just in the Bible, but in everyday life.  No one needs to feel like cancer is a personal failure on their part, that they just weren’t faithful enough.  Sometimes cancer, or other shitty situations, just happen. Even to good and faithful people.

All that being said, I hate it when people go all sour grapes on what others have.  No doubt Joel Osteen got a leg up in life, but he’s devoted his life to his work, and built a brand up around himself through not only preaching but books and promotional deals. Also, he’s increased his church membership to 40,000 people.  From a purely business perspective, I have to respect that.

And I do agree with one of the core messages of Prosperity Theology: that God wants us to be happy.  Perhaps the major difference is how followers of Prosperity Theology and I define “happy.”  I do not want a yacht, or a mansion, or even a pool – I know how much upkeep those things take and that’s not how I want to spend my time or money.  But maybe someone else does want those things, and who am I to judge?

So where does that leave us? I’ve talked an awful lot in the first two months of this project about the importance of acceptance and understanding – mostly from a left-looking-right standpoint.  But acceptance is just that – accepting people my have viewpoints that are not in line with my own.  As long as they aren’t hurting anyone, then I can’t be overly critical, right? But what do we define as harmful?  I think the followers of Prosperity Theology are doing themselves a disservice by missing some of the wonderful subtleties of the Bible and trying to force God into a “magic genie” role that falls far short of what I believe God to be.  But, is that harmful? Should I try to dissuade them?

I wish I could wrap this up with a neat little answer, but I don’t think I can.  There are so many other problems that I think are larger than any issues I might have with Prosperity Theology, so until they do something truly exclusionary, I’ll table any misgivings.  I think that might be my larger takeaway from this reading: a reminder to pick which battles are worth fighting, and being able to live with decisions others might make that I don’t like, but that have no bearing on me. For now, the best course of action I can think of is to just keep living an example of what I think is the best way: Enjoy life, tread lightly upon the earth, and find joy in giving back.  Most days I fall far short of what I think my best should be.  Seriously, every disposable snack pack of pudding or applesauce I give the girls feels like a moral failing for this regenerative farmer, but sometimes it’s the only way to get calories in them.  But every day I try, and I hope I’m getting better as I get older.  And, I hope, that those little changes, and my own little examples are enough, with time, to spread the change I wish to see in the world.

Genesis 12 – Assessing your Spiritual Gifts

Knowing your spiritual strengths and weaknesses.

I got deep into some home improvement projects while the girls’ were with grandparents, and the blog fell by the wayside.  But now the house is put to rights, the girls are back, and so am I.  A note on the readings: I’m going to keep reading Genesis this month, and with the start of Lent (March 6 this year) I’ll be reading Job.

***

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. 11 As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know what a beautiful woman you are. 12 When the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me but will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister,so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you.”

14 When Abram came to Egypt, the Egyptians saw that Sarai was a very beautiful woman. 15 And when Pharaoh’s officials saw her, they praised her to Pharaoh, and she was taken into his palace. 16 He treated Abram well for her sake, and Abram acquired sheep and cattle, male and female donkeys, male and female servants, and camels.

17 But the Lord inflicted serious diseases on Pharaoh and his household because of Abram’s wife Sarai. 18 So Pharaoh summoned Abram. “What have you done to me?” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!” 20 Then Pharaoh gave orders about Abram to his men, and they sent him on his way, with his wife and everything he had.

My last post was about using our gifts to do God’s work, and here we see God calling upon Abram to follow His path.  Like, really follow His path: leaving your family and wandering out into the unforgiving wilderness to foreign lands is scary enough now; back then it was a real act of faith.

I (only half jokingly) say that I hope I never hear directly from God.  If I hear the voice of God, I’ll have to follow whatever he commands me to do.  How can one ignore the direct voice of God? I never want to be Abram, who uprooted everything and moved away.  But, with that being said, I constantly question if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m on the right path.  Perhaps some of this is normal and healthy, but I do tend to be an over-thinker.  This past week or so I’ve noticed a lot of reminders in my life about finding your purpose, or your own special place in God’s plan, so I decided to take the Spiritual Gifts Assessment offered by the United Methodist Church.  There are others, but this was the one recommended to me, and you don’t have to sign up for anything to take it, so it’s the one I went with.

For those curious, I scored highest in “Interpretation,” i.e., I’m good at bridging the gap between different groups of people.  I also scored well in Sheperding, Healing, and Servanthood, which makes sense as I do those things on a daily basis with my kids.  I scored really low in Faith and Helping, which kind of bums me out, but I guess gives me something to work on.

But now that I know my strengths (and weaknesses) I can compare my efforts to them.  I’m feeling good about this blog – at least today, like I said, I’m a classic over-thinker -because it fits solidly into the “Interpretation” strength. I can weigh other potential endeavors, such as joining church committees or taking up volunteer work, against these strengths to see if I’d be a good fit and more likely to stick with it.  That’s not to say that sometimes things won’t fit neatly into the mold.  I ran the art committee at my previous church and I don’t really think that played to my spiritual strengths, but more to my love of art. But still, this test and these strengths are a nice starting point.

If you’ve felt like you could be doing “more,” or if you feel like your faith could be doing more for you, I encourage you to take this test.  We may not be Abram going through the strange lands of Canaan and Egypt, but we are, each and every one of us, going through this strange and wondrous life without a guidebook.  Knowing our spiritual strengths is another tool in our toolbox to make the most of it.

Genesis 07-Greater Truths

Love and hope for our fellow man.

The Lord then said to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven pairs of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and one pair of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven pairs of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”

And Noah did all that the Lord commanded him.

Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind,everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah. Then the Lord shut him in.

17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. 21 Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. 22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

The flood story has fascinated me since sixth grade, where I distinctly remember learning in Mrs. Fowler’s 4th period Social Studies class that Sumerian culture also had a flood story.  And indeed, many, many cultures have a flood story – Wikipedia has a whole list of flood stories from around the world, beyond the famous Noah of the Bible and Gilgamesh of Mesopotamia. Here was hard proof that MY religion was based on historical facts, not just some nebulous mythology.  Perhaps other civilizations had missed the boat (ha, ha I know, I’m a total cornball) on recognizing the Abrahamic God as the true God, but that flood happened and they knew it was because some deity was angry.

It’s funny how as you get older you don’t know it all anymore.  I’m sure I’ll say the same thing about my current self in 20 years.  But anyway-I’m still excited about the pervasiveness of the flood myth, but less as a validation to my own religion and more as a validation to the greater truths of humanity.

What are the greater truths we share, beyond a more-or-less “historically accurate” flood story?  That’s what I’m reading the Bible to find out.  But my hypothesis lies in the subtitle of this blog: Radical Love.  Human history is filled with examples of radical love – stories of sacrifice, of miracles, and, yes, of epic romances.  This flood story is a story of God’s wrath, but also a story of His love for us.  God looked upon the Earth and humanity in despair.  But in his despair he found love for Noah and his family, enough to carry them through an earth-ending calamity.  If He can find the one good man out of an entire world of wickedness, don’t we owe it to Him to search for the good, for to common ground, in our fellow man?

I’m not saying to turn a blind eye to injustice in order to keep the peace.  But do recognize that your opponent, whoever that may be, is a person.  A living, breathing person who eats and sleeps and fears and feels.  Better yet, recognize that your opponent may not be a person at all, but a larger system of injustice, such as institutional racism, and that your opponent is a product of their environment.  Call out the wrongs in society, for sure, but also extend a hand of recognition, too.  It’s been a while since I’ve used a parenting analogy, so here we go:  Sometimes, when one of the kids is throwing a shit fit, the best way to calm things down is to drop everything and hug them, let them know that I am here and listening to them and that it’s going to be alright – no need to throw things and hit and yell. I recognize their human needs, and they calm down (usually, unless someone has the Leapfrog counting phone out of turn, then all bets are off).  Simply acknowledging the anger (fear) of another person can help to calm the storm.

Hope is another “greater truth” from this flood story.  Many (not all, but many) of these similar flood stories start with God (or whoever) being willing to save the flicker of good left in humanity, and ends with God (or whoever) making a promise to carry on the Earth after the flood.  That little flicker of a divine flame can literally save the world.  So again, I repeat: If God can place the hope of mankind into one flawed man, don’t we owe it to Him to search for the divine flicker good in our fellow man?  I think it’s a good place to start.

 

Genesis 06 – Noah, the Ordinary Man

Kings could have build God a fleet of ships, had he so chosen.

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

This is the account of Noah and his family.

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth.

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.16 Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

There are two parts of to this chapter: Verses 1-7 describe the way the world was around the time of Noah: man’s lifespan getting shorter (their days shall number 120 years, verse 3), Nephilim roaming the earth (we’ll get to them in a moment), and general wickedness.  The second part of this chapter is the beginning of the flood story, where Noah is identified as “a righteous man” (6:9) and given instructions for the ark.

I think verses 1-7 almost sounds like a prologue out of Lord of the Rings.  I wonder how much of a Bible reader Tolkien was.  The language sounds like something the Elves would say. “For man is mortal” (6:3) and “his heart was deeply troubled” (6:6) are both lines also said in one of the movies, I’m pretty sure.  Also, this prologue has an epic cast of characters, even if they are only alluded to: the sons of God, beautiful daughters of Man, heroes of old, men of renown, Nephilim.  And who are these Nephilim?  There are two schools of thought: One is that they were fully human, and it was a way to describe kings, who often achieved demi-god status in the eyes of men at this time.  Second, is that they are fallen angels (or the offspring of fallen angels) who intermarried with mankind.  Either way, they were seen as big, strong, important beings.  Some even translate the word to mean “giants.”  Was there a race of giants roaming the Earth during Genesis? Perhaps there were a few: the Anakites mentioned later are also described as giants.  Whether this means they were actually “giants” or just unusually big, strong people we may never know, but clearly the author sees them as exceptional.

But the question here is, what does this have to do with Noah, and why, out of all the details that could be shared in a prologue, are these the ones being shared with us?  The “wickedness of the human race” (6:5) is shown in contrast to Noah’s righteousness.  That makes sense.  But I think these Nephilim and the other epic characters mentioned are to contrast Noah’s ordinariness. Yes, he was the grandson of Enoch, who walked with God, but other than that, Noah was just an everyday Joe.  He was not a giant, he was not a king.  He was just a man.

I’m going to jump ahead here because there’s a New Testament quote I love. Luke 6-7 reads: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  God sees us, God loves us, and through Him we are made special, just like Noah.  God selected Noah, out of all the people that could have been picked to build the ark.  Surely these strong Nephilim could have built it bigger and faster.  Kings could have built God a fleet of ships, had He so chosen.  But Noah, just a sparrow of a man compared to these others, was the one righteous enough to save.

It’s comforting and sobering at the same time.  The comfort of it is: we matter. Every single one of us matters.  It doesn’t make a difference how unimportant we seem in the grand scheme of things: social status, wealth – none of that makes us more or less precious to God.  The sobering part is: we are all equally responsible for our actions.  Again, kings could have changed whole policies that would have made society less wicked.  Government worked a little different back then, but decrees outlawing whatever the wickedness was at that time (I’m guessing prostitution, greed that led widows and orphans to abject poverty, murder) would have been an effective start, as would a task force of dedicated Nephilim enforcing said decrees.  But even if that had happened, that doesn’t get the little guys, like you and me and Noah, off the hook.  Regardless of the law of the land, we still have a responsibility to God to be “righteous.”

I actually hate that word.  It sounds elitist and judge-y. Which is too bad, because that’s not really what it means, or what it should mean.  If we are righteous, we are decent and virtuous, which still sounds a little puritanical, but better.  What it boils down to is that we just need to be good people.  That is hard sometimes. But more than that, it’s scary sometimes.  It means going against the grain of society.  Noah and his family were the only “righteous” ones left around, according to this story.  You don’t think it got them a few sideways looks? It also means doing things that go against good sense.  Noah built an ark in the desert.  Tithing when I worry about money every month doesn’t make sense either, but it works (as an aside, I found the exact tithing amount needed for this month when doing a deep clean of our bedroom last week).

Scariest of all, being righteous, being a good person, means we are open to hearing God’s call, and sometimes it can mean taking on something greater than we ever thought we’d have to do.  I doubt God will call upon you to build an ark, but even people who feel called to do something can testify to how difficult it is sometimes.  The pastor of the current church I go to said he wrestled with the decision to become a minister for years before finally doing it.  I felt called to start this farm.  Most of the time I feel great, but there are definitely moments where I look around and think, “what the flying fuck was I thinking?!”

So, it can be scary to be a good person.  But lest I scare you completely off, know that God is there, and He sees you, down to the very hairs of your head.  Knowing that you are cherished so can make it a little easier in those hard and scary times to carry on.  So please, if you only take one thing from this, know that you are loved. To God, you are not only more precious than many sparrows, but more precious than the heroes of old, the men of renown, even the giant Nephilim.  You, no matter ordinary, are loved above all.

Proverbs 01 – Teaching Moments

Not being afraid to grow in our faith.

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;
    for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
    doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the young—
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
    and let the discerning get guidance—
for understanding proverbs and parables,
    the sayings and riddles of the wise.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools[c] despise wisdom and instruction.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
    and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head
    and a chain to adorn your neck.

10 My son, if sinful men entice you,
    do not give in to them.
11 If they say, “Come along with us;
    let’s lie in wait for innocent blood,
    let’s ambush some harmless soul;
12 let’s swallow them alive, like the grave,
    and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we will get all sorts of valuable things
    and fill our houses with plunder;
14 cast lots with us;
    we will all share the loot”—
15 my son, do not go along with them,
    do not set foot on their paths;
16 for their feet rush into evil,
    they are swift to shed blood.
17 How useless to spread a net
    where every bird can see it!
18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;
    they ambush only themselves!
19 Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
    it takes away the life of those who get it.

20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
    she raises her voice in the public square;
21 on top of the wall she cries out,
    at the city gate she makes her speech:

22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
    How long will mockers delight in mockery
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 Repent at my rebuke!
    Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
    I will make known to you my teachings.
24 But since you refuse to listen when I call
    and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand,
25 since you disregard all my advice
    and do not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you;
    I will mock when calamity overtakes you—
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
    when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
    when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
    they will look for me but will not find me,
29 since they hated knowledge
    and did not choose to fear the Lord.
30 Since they would not accept my advice
    and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
    and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
    and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
    and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

Two things struck me in this opening to Proverbs: Wisdom as a commodity and the idea of knowledge not coming without correction.  Let’s start with the first theme.

As I was pondering this chapter, the idea of Wisdom as a commodity was one that struck me as interesting.  Really, I’m just introducing that theme here and will be reading with an eye towards that theme as I go on.  Wisdom, in this chapter, graces and adorns it’s master like a garland or chain – in other words, precious goods. Something that can be traded, bought, or sold (1:9) Later, the wicked are warned they will “eath the fruit of their ways,” (1:31), which admittedly is not the way of wisdom, but we’re all familiar with the phrase “fruit of thy labors,” which again, implies payment of some sort.  What does this mean overall?  I’m not sure yet, but the word ‘wisdom’ is used 218 times in the NIV Bible I generally reference (yay, Google searches!), so there will be plenty of times to see this theme develop, if it does.

The second theme, of knowledge coming hand-in-hand with correction, is one I think we all could do well to remember.  I know I can be a rather prideful person, often bristling when people with very good intentions simply point out improvements, let alone correct mistakes.  My husband can testify to how defensive I get after writing our farm’s yearly business plan and giving it to him for review.

I see this idea, this-hand-in hand relationship between wisdom and rebuke, as a reminder to make full use of all the teaching moments presented to us in life, and not to be afraid of a differing viewpoint.  That doesn’t mean you have to question all your beliefs all the time, but don’t be afraid to grow in your faith, as well.  I, for one, didn’t believe in same-sex marriage when I was younger, and saw the gun debate as a red herring for mental health issues.  Now, I fully support same-sex marriage because I see it as an expression of love, and I believe that God is, above all else, supremely loving and would approve of people sharing their love.  Also, while I still believe mental health is a very important issue in this country, I also believe that stricter gun laws should be in place because they would protect some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters – namely children and those contemplating suicide.  I hope that I am growing in my faith and ability to be a loving person.  I hope I continue to grow.  And,  I will try (and I’m sure sometimes fail) to see disagreements, corrections, and suggestions as opportunities to gain wisdom, and grow as a person.  True, it’s not a revolutionary idea, but it is one that bears repeating.  Let’s all try to be conscious of this next time we feel the need to be defensive, and see what we can gain.

 

Isaiah 09-The Spurned-Lover God

The importance of finding forgiveness.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

 

The Lord has sent a message against Jacob;
    it will fall on Israel.
All the people will know it—
    Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria—
who say with pride
    and arrogance of heart,
10 “The bricks have fallen down,
    but we will rebuild with dressed stone;
the fig trees have been felled,
    but we will replace them with cedars.”
11 But the Lord has strengthened Rezin’s foes against them
    and has spurred their enemies on.
12 Arameans from the east and Philistines from the west
    have devoured Israel with open mouth.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
    his hand is still upraised.

13 But the people have not returned to him who struck them,
    nor have they sought the Lord Almighty.
14 So the Lord will cut off from Israel both head and tail,
    both palm branch and reed in a single day;
15 the elders and dignitaries are the head,
    the prophets who teach lies are the tail.
16 Those who guide this people mislead them,
    and those who are guided are led astray.
17 Therefore the Lord will take no pleasure in the young men,
    nor will he pity the fatherless and widows,
for everyone is ungodly and wicked,
    every mouth speaks folly.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
    his hand is still upraised.

18 Surely wickedness burns like a fire;
    it consumes briers and thorns,
it sets the forest thickets ablaze,
    so that it rolls upward in a column of smoke.
19 By the wrath of the Lord Almighty
    the land will be scorched
and the people will be fuel for the fire;
    they will not spare one another.
20 On the right they will devour,
    but still be hungry;
on the left they will eat,
    but not be satisfied.
Each will feed on the flesh of their own offspring:
21     Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh;
    together they will turn against Judah.

Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
    his hand is still upraised.

HOLY SHIT that took a hard left turn into crazy-town halfway through! I picked it because it was all warm and fuzzy and Christmas-y at the beginning and didn’t read past verse six.  The first half is all warm and fuzzy, and it would be super easy to do a blog post about just that.  But I’m here to find radical love and fight hypocrisy throughout the whole Bible, so I guess I better deal with this insane, cannibal-fueled second half.

My good study buddy Google showed me some commentary on this section.  It has it’s own name: The Speech of the Outstretched Hand.  And it really is about some hardcore judgement.  But the more I read about it, the more I see God as a spurned lover.  Have you and your partner ever gotten in a fight, and things have spiraled downward and you start saying things you don’t mean and that have nothing to do with the original argument, just trying to score points?  Now I believe that God is a God of love, and not vindictive, but He’s also not just going to roll over and take it.  And for me, reading this rather horrific second passage in that light helps make it more understandable.

God having hurt feelings sounds kind of trite, but if he loves us, and also is angered by us (both Godly emotions are listed in the Bible repeatedly), couldn’t he also be hurt by us?  The reason I’ve started thinking about him as a spurned lover, at least in this passage, is because of two lines.  First, 9:13: “But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty.” Okay, not an argument for abusive relationships.  But it takes two to argue, so it’s more of an argument for recognizing our own fault and reaching out to make amends.  Second, the footnote of 9:7 compares God’s “zeal” to that of a “jealous [often a synonym for faithful, not jealous in a harmful way] lover who will not abandon his people.” All of this second half of the chapter is brought on by a God who has been hurt by our actions, specifically our pride. I for one know I would be crushed if my husband said “I don’t need you,” so I definitely feel for God right now.

Also let’s just take a quick aside about the whole “feed on the flesh of his own offspring” and “Manesseh will feed on Ephraim” business in verses 20 and 21.  That’s pretty gross. Again, it can be seen as both metaphor and literal.  Israel was at war around the time of this writing, and the atrocities of war are just that, atrocities.  Sometimes, those that survive the war are faced with equally horrific conditions, like starvation.  I don’t know if there is any documentation of starving and cannibalism after the Assyrians invaded Israel, but even if it didn’t happen in this particular war, we all know it does, heart-breakingly so, happen.  So, while this is, unfortunately, something that can literally happen, it can also be a burn-your-eyesockets-vivid metaphor for brother turning on brother.  If we do not have God in our hearts, if we have turned away from God, where is our brotherly love?  Will we not only think of ourselves and hurt our brothers (and sisters) for personal gain?  As an aside from my aside, to address those who say you don’t have to have God in your heart (aka not be “Christian” or “religious” to be a good person) so this doesn’t really apply, I agree, kind of.  I think God is greater than the tiny religious boxes we put Him in, and therefore anyone who considers the needs of others, and is acting out of kindness and concern, has God in their hearts.  Or at least God has them in His.

So what to do with this spurned lover God and gloomy talk of judgement and wicked people?  How about let’s try to avoid it.  Maybe avoidance is the wrong word, let’s try to prevent it. That’s better.  Let’s take a lesson from the prideful and arrogant people of Ephraim and Samaria in verse 9, and not be like them. Let us be humble enough to recognize our wrongs, which is hard to do, and also apologize for those wrongs, which is even harder to do.  Praying to God for forgiveness is great.  We are human and fallible and prone to mistakes on a daily basis and definitely need it.  But asking for forgiveness of others in our life, if done with intention, can also be an act of reconciliation with God.  After all, as 9:6 tells us, “For to us a child is born…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus is born, Jesus is here, Hallelujah. Through him, God has already outstretched a hand of reconciliation.  All we need to to do is ask forgiveness and reach back.