Thursday, April 09, 2009

Rising and falling by the hand of God and how to consider that

The book of Samuel impresses me for its breadth and subtlety. THe book also impresses me for revealing how men accept or reject the rejection of God and what that means. Eli, for instance, accepts that he has been rejected by God from serving as priest, he and his entire family. When the hour of his death comes he is waiting to hear news about the ark of the Covenant. This is a good sign, it means he has come to care about the condition of the ark. He had during his life given more weight (literally and figuratively) to himself and his sons than to the things of God and for that God rejected him. This is not proof, however, that Eli himself was rejected or not loved by God.

I don 't think I need to spell out in much detail why I consider this significant. People know my church affiliations and can research events from the last few years without much trouble. God raises and casts down men from positions of influence and leadership and when that happens they have an opportunity to accept or reject that event. Especially for, say, Calvinists, they have to accept that all things come from the hand of God by God's decree or permission. A Calvinist who changes his theology in response to personal experience is reshaping his definition of God around his experience and not the other way around, which is a mark against said Calvinist by Calvinist's own measure but I digress.

David accepted that both his rise and fall and rise were from the hand of God. He did not seek the kingship and when it was taken from him or not given to him in a swift manner he did not attempt to seize it. He served the people well and love the Lord and the Lord's people. Eli and Saul alike seemed to love the comforts and privileges of a prominent place among God's people but were not bothered to execute their responsibilities. It was more fun to throw their weight around and benefit from their prominence than to serve. I think that Eli repented. When we see Saul's reaction, as I have said many times, Eli's response is accepting and obedient. "He is the Lord, let Him do what seems good to Him."

When David was threatened by Absalom he accepted that rebellion as from the Lord just as he accepted that his throne was established by God. He no doubt remembered the prophecy of Nathan that disaster would come and recognized Absalom's rebellion as part of the consequences of his own earlier sin and of recurring sins. I mention in passing that David always seemed to have a weakness for favoring family and not wanting to sternly discipline his sons for egregious behavior. Nevertheless, he was a man after God's own heart.

If God throws you down from a position of prominence or influence trust in that. Don't attempt to regain your position even if you were cast down by unjust actions. David was the target of a rebellion from his own son, a rebellion that used justice and equity as a facade to hide motivations of bitterness and wrath. David accepted that he was cast aside from the throne by the hand of God. He took action to prevent Absalom from wreaking more havoc by asking a friend to thwart the counsel of a counselor who betrayed him. He also took every measure to protect his own life but not his own life alone but also the lives of his men. And in all this he accepted curses from Shimei as from God and accepted that God had cast him down. God eventually restored him. Had David attempted to cling to his status as Saul had done it could have been ruin for him.

If God casts you down He can also lift you up. As David said in the third Psalm, He is your glory and the lifter of your head. The kingship is not glory, a position of prominence among the people is not glory, being respected and influential is not glory and David came to recognize and remember these things. As the apostle reminds us, humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up.

I have seen some Calvinists seem to lose the courage of their convictions as Calvinists when God permitted disaster to strike them for things for which they held themselves innocent. And very likely they were innocent of a great deal, just as Job suffered by God's own account without cause. That is to say that Job was not suffering because of any sin that would warrant punishment. Of course I see no compelling moral or social reason to be a Calvinist so if people jump off the Calvinist boat I don't care if they love Christ.

Now I "could" say that personal events should not rock your theology but the truth is no serious Christian can exclude that. Clearly the apostles faced an event that was both personal and universal in its implications, the resurrection of Jesus. Personal events that are cataclysmic or catalyzing in their implications SHOULD compel us to rethink our entire understanding of God and the cosmos.

In using the example of David and even Eli I am not advocating a fatalistic approach to God's rejection. I believe these were both men loved by God. Their failures are not just warnings to us but also examples to follow in contrast to the example of Saul. Saul was a man given the kingdom who sought to hold on to it even after he proved unworthy of it and spurned God for it. David accepted that both his rise and fall were from the hand of God but he still took action, sent his friend to thwart Ahithophel's counsel and made plans. I don't mean plans of the "reverse engineering your life" variety (let the reader understand). David was not in a position to make plans like that but to drop everything and truly place himself in the hands of the Lord trusting that he needed to act but that only God could preserve his life. He also accepted that God in His justice would allow injustice to happen. Perhaps even stranger David wept of Absalom so much Joab felt obliged to rebuke him before his lament turned the people against him. Clearly David did not rejoice over the fall of his son.

I don't really have any place of prominence or any position of note. I'm a nobody, which is basically how I like things. If you have been in a position of prominence and God has cast you down from it don't try to recover that. A living dog is better off than a dead lion. God humbles the proud and exalts the humble. See if God doesn't have something better for you than what you have taken pride and glory in. When Samuel's sons were rejected and he was told Israel wanted a king he was being removed from acceptance in one role but became a prophet. What is ESPECIALLY intriguing to me, that I was discussing with friends over the weekend last week is Samuel's sons. They were corrupt and took bribes, terrible judges whose corruption inspired Israel to ask for a king. The request was still sinful but who would say Israel was wrong to be upset about the fact that Samuel's sons did not walk in the ways of their father? Arguably Samuel was as good or better a prophet as he was a judge.

When God removes us from one office or position He has another task prepared for us. If someone were at one point a pastor or a businessman and God allows them to be thrown from their pastoral position or business there is something new God can lead them to. Attempting to cling to what has been is asking for trouble.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

A digression inspired by the Boar's Head Tavern

specifically I have been inspired to take a little aside from this question:

In summary, we can observe from 1 Kings that Solomon built the temple and God dwelt within it. We get no comparable account of God descending on the second temple and dwelling in it. Since I live in Seattle and I have been around Mars Hill a lot I realize Phillip Winn's question is not only a great one but one I don't remember being mentioned during the Nehemiah series. After all that work and all that struggle to accomplish what the Lord conveyed to be done through the book of Ezra/Nehemiah ... why didn't God dwell in His temple?

For that matter, let's go all the way back to Ezra. I realize that Ezra and Nehemiah are separate in the canon but they are widely accepted to have been one book. It is in Ezra 1 that Cyrus spells out that Yahweh had given him all the kingdoms of the world and had directed him to have a house built for Him. Ezra 5 is a good listen in the necessity of preserving and considering paperwork but that is another topic for another time! We are told right away that so the word of the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah might be fulfilled the Lord stirred up the heart of Cyrus.

The fulfillment of a prophetic utterance may not be recognized when it comes to pass but after it comes to pass. Hebrew prophecy can pretty much be this way. So how did Ezra recognize the moment? He knew the writings of Jeremiah, obviously. But it is crucial to note the prophets Haggai and Zechariah both spoke during this period. Haggai encouraged people to keep up the work of restoring the temple

It may be obvious enough but it appears as though it is necessary to read Ezra/Nehemiah along with Haggai and Zechariah. The occasions in which one Old Testament document refers to another that is also canonized are actually relatively rare. This is all more than I could effectively blog about anyway. For now it will suffice to point out that Israel did not lack for prophets to encourage them in rebuilding Jerusalem. Israel did not lack for those who kept records of the permission given to restore Jerusalem's fortunes through pagan kings. Israel did not lack for leaders like Ezra and Nehemiah to challenge them to be faithful to the covenant and yet after all that divine revelation and encouragement the presence of Yahweh is never mentioned as descending upon the Temple.

Zechariah 8 gives us what appears to be a very clear promise that God will dwell again with His people. As a Christian I might stop to point out that I believe that the promise in Zechariah finds fulfilmment in Jesus. The longer I read the Bible the more aware I become that the Old Testament is exceptionally challenging to read and interpret and it can be quite popular for people to interpret each book as though it were not intertwined with other biblical books. Despite being a Protestant I would not really say the Bible is a book that "interprets itself". I certainly affirm the perspecuity of Scripture but even the perspecuity of Scripture requires actual study and scholarship and consideration.

Monday, April 06, 2009

the path of Christ is a curious one ...

We have need not only to repent of our vices but the holiness of Christ also reveals how we need to repent of our virtues. True virtue is not something we need to repent of but we can easily delude ourselves into thinking aspects of our character our virtues that simply aren't. Perhaps no one is more in need of such a thing than a simple sinner who would suggest it is what the royal rhetoricla "we" need.

So I would say that my virtues as I perceive them are as much in need of repenting from as any vices I am bothered by. My sense of loyalty can be too self-serving, my sense of justice too much retribution or revenge, the vast majority of my fear is simply not holy, my anger is often less about injustice than a loss of convenience or status or connection. It is not to say I have never had any cause to be angry or loyal or fearful or want justice ... just that it is so easy to mistake my virtues or those of others for that which Christ would seek to grow within me.

Just as Judas may complain of a waste of money he would have used for himself, just as Absalom complaiend about the injustices of his father while fomenting a rebellion and becoming vengeful and bloodthirsty, just as Joash began to permit and condone idolatry and grew to the point where he commanded the slaying of a prophet and priest, so I can misconstrue one cause or another as the right one and forget that the only cause that does not fail is that of Christ and that all other efforts of men and women founder.

I put my trust in the kindness of Christ that I do not have to be an Absalom or a Judas even if like Peter I have found myself denying Christ out of fear in unexpected times and places. As with Peter, a person does not find himself or herself denying knowledge of the man at an expected time. So often we prove our forgetfulness of Him in triumph rather than travails.