Friday, September 11, 2020

Blogging Bible Study: Digging in the Desert - Isaiah: Judgement for Judah

 Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi


I struggled with this set of verses, to be honest.  Finally I figured out that if I used them in logical, rather than chronological, order, then it could make some sense.

Isaiah, of course, was a prophet in the later years of the divided kingdom, and talks about the coming judgment and the distant restoration, as well as some references to the coming Messiah.  A few of these discussions include references to 'desert', so those are the ones we will look at; today's topic is judgment.  I'll just list them in the order that makes the most sense, then I'll talk about it.

"Because of your sins you were sold;  because of your transgressions your mother was sent away.  When I came, why was there no one?  When I called, why was there no one to answer?  Was my arm too short to ransom you?  Do I lack the strength to rescue you?  By a mere rebuke I dry up the sea, I turn rivers into a desert; their fish rot for lack of water and die of thirst.- Is. 50: 1b - 2

By this, then, will Jacob's guilt be atoned for; and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin:  When he makes all the altar stones to be like chalk stones crushed to pieces, no Asherah poles or incense altars will be left standing.  The fortified city stands desolate, and abandoned settlement, forsaken like the desert; there the calves graze, there they lie down; they strip its branches bare.  When its twigs are dry, they are broken off and women come and make fires with them.  For this is a people without understanding; so their Maker has no compassion on them, and their Creator shows them no favor.  - Is. 27:9 - 11

"Do not be angry beyond measure, O LORD; do not remember our sins forever.  Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.  Your sacred cities have become a desert; even Zion is a desert, Jerusalem a desolation.  Our holy and glorious temple, where our fathers praised you, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins."  -- Is. 64:9-11

"You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuse for the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.  For the breath of the ruthless is like a storm driving against a wall and like the heat of the desert.  You silence the uproar of foreigners; as heat is reduced by the shadow of a cloud, so the song of the ruthless is stilled."  --Is. 25: 4-5

I do realize that one can take verses from the Bible and string them together in a script that is totally out of context and completely changes the meaning, but  if you go back and read the verses in their context I think you will agree with me that this sequence works.

The first two verses in this group are, basically, the pronouncement of judgment upon Judah.  I think it's interesting that God points out to them that he, of course, is able to deliver his people...but he didn't do it.  In fact, he invites them in 50:2 to consider why they were in the predicament they were in, because the reason was NOT that he couldn't save them.  The reason was...the people had walked away from following him.  Repeatedly.  And after many warnings from his servants.  A people without understanding.

But, as the other two verses indicate...there were a few who heard, who honored God, who threaded their way through the judgment and exile and prayed for the nation.  Those, God protected in their captivity, as a refuge and a shade.  The nation was not utterly obliterated.  Even in the midst of judgment, there was hope, because God is a refuge for those who will turn to him.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Blogging Bible Study: Digging in the Desert - The First Fall

 Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

So, there really is only one verse in Isaiah in the the next topic w/ a 'desert' verse, but it's a doozy  and needs a good bit of context....

How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations!  You said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the throne of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.  I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High."

But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit.  Those who see you stare at you, they ponder your fate: "Is this the man who shook the earth and made kingdoms tremble,  the man who made the world a desert, who overthrew its cities and would not let his captives go home?"   -- Is. 14: 12 - 17, NIV 84

Now, in a broader sense, this passage is plopped into a longer passage regarding the fate of the king of Babylon (14:4).  But the phrase 'you have fallen from heaven' and the description 'morning star, son of the dawn'  is generally accepted by Bible scholars as a reference to Lucifer, aka Satan, and his fall from his place.

Not that the King of Babylon is exempt from these verses; no, these verses are also addressing the force or power behind the atrocities committed by the King of Bablyon. Two with one, so to speak.  

This is the attitude of Lucifer, and it also is the temptation that he feeds men...be above God!  Be like the Most High!  Break out of submission to Him!  (see Genesis : 4-5 for the first time he waved that mirage in front of humans).  So Lucifer...and the ones he deceives...all have that in common.  'I will ascend... I will raise my throne (authority)...I will make myself like the Most High.'

Only...it's a false dream, a fake aspiration, a house of cards.  It doesn't work.  No-one can be 'like the Most High', because the Most High is completely other-than anyone or anything else. Lucifer discovered this; his attempt failed and he was cast down to earth.  But he uses that same deception to fool humans...who also suffer a similar fate in the end.   

But I also see a reminder in this passage that there is a bigger narrative running than we see in the immediate now.  The ambitions of humans to aspire to be in control, be exalted, be supreme...is just an echo of that same ambition in the Enemy. His power is limited, so he tries again and again to achieve dominance through human agents.  Sometimes, he appears to succeed for a season, making the world a desert, overthrowing cities and taking captives, but in the end, it all crumbles.

We're in this for the long haul.


Friday, August 28, 2020

Blogging Bible Study: Digging in the Desert -- Isaiah: Fate of Babylon et al

 Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi


So our look at the word 'desert' through the Bible has brought us to the first book of the Prophets...Isaiah.  I debated a bit what the best approach to this might be; I think I'm going to take the same approach I took in Psalms...group verses by topic rather than just strictly chronological.  I also found, in my overview skim through, that I'm going to need to include a bunch of other verses around the 'desert' verses so we have the context to know what the 'desert verse' is even talking about it. So I'll put the actual desert verse in bold font  in the quoted passage.

But I will take the topics in the order encountered; and first up is a group of verses I've tagged 'Fate of  Bablylon'. 

Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of the Babylonian's pride, will be overthown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah.  She will never be inhabited or lived in through all generations; no Arab will pitch his tent there, no shepherd will rest his flocks there. But the desert creatures will lie there, the jackals will fill her houses; there the owls will dwell,  and there the wild goats will leap about.  Hyenas will howl in her strongholds, jackals in her luxurious palaces.  Her time is at hand, and her days will not be prolonged.  -- Is. 13: 19-21

An oracle concerning the Desert by the Sea:  Like whirlwinds sweeping through the south land, an invader comes from the desert, from a land of terror.  A dire vision has been shown to me:  the traitor betrays, the looter takes loot.  Elam, attack!  Media, lay siege! I will bring an end to all the groaning she caused....Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses.  And he gives back the answer:  "Babylon has fallen, has fallen!  All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!"  -- Is. 21:1-2 ,9

Look at the  land of the Babylonians,  this people that is now of no account!  The Assyrians have made it a place for desert creatures; they raised up their siege towers,  they stripped its fortresses bare and turned it into a ruin.  - Is. 23:13

And, because it's a similar expression, I'll add references to other nations as well...

 Moab: 

Send lambs as a tribute to the ruler of the land, from Sela, across the desert, to the mount of the Daughter of Zion.  Like fluttering birds pushed from the nest, so are the women of Moab at the fords of the Arnon....We have heard of Moab's pride -- her overweening pride and conceit, her pride and  her insolence -- but her boasts are empty.  Therefore the Moabites wail, they wail together for Moab.  Lament and grieve for the men of Kir Hareseth. The fields of Heshbon wither, the vines of Sibmah also.  The rulers of the nations have trampled down the choicest vines, which once reached Jazer and spread toward the desert.  Their shoots spread out and went as far as the sea.  So I weep, as Jazer weeps, for the vines of Sibmah.  O Heshbon, O Elealeh, I drench you with tears!  The shouts of joy over your ripened fruit and over your harvests have been stilled...When Moab appears at her high place, she only wears herself out; when she goes to her shrine to pray, it is to no avail. -- Is. 16: 1-2, 6-9, 12

Edom:

For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion's cause.  Edom's streams will be turned to pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch!  It will not be quenched night and day; its smoke will rise forever.  From generation to generation it will lie desolate; no one will ever pass through it again.  The desert owl and screech owl will possess it; the great owl and the raven will nest there.  God will stretch over Edom the measuring line of chaos and the plumb line of desolation....Desert creatures will meet with hyenas, and wild goats will bleat to each other; there the night creatures will also repose and find for themselves places of rest. -- Is. 34:8-11,14

The three nations listed here (and there are judgments against other nations in Isaiah as well; these were the ones that referenced the desert) all have offenses registered against Israel.  Babylon, of course, was the place of 70 years of captivity, and Moab and Edom, despite the fact that they were descended from common ancestors with Israel, refused to give them aid when they returned from their sojourn in Egypt.  It's interesting that a common image of utter defeat is the return of the land to the desert creatures.  Not that the land would be inhabited by conquerors, but that the land would be laid desolate and unproductive; Edom's doom is even more extreme...the land is fouled and burning. Which kind of makes me wonder if that vision is yet to come; something in the apocalyptic future.

[tries to write more and fails several times]

I can't get away from that image.  With his own people, God used droughts, invaders, even exile and desolation as judgment but he always had a promise of restoration and blessing.  But for nations that never followed him...his judgment was absolute. Owls. Wild goats. Jackals. 

Desert.

Back to what the land was before the people came and dug and built and cultivated.  I would almost say...back to square one, with only traces of the productivity that was once there.  The desert creatures are content to live where the people were without care.

God removed the nation and let the wild creatures have the land.

Something to ponder.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Blogging Bible Study: Digging in the Desert -- Proverbs and Song of Songs

 Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

We have exactly one verse in Proverbs that references the desert, none in Ecclesiastes and two in Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon or Canticles, depending on your translation).  So I'll just look at all three verses today and finish the poetic writings.

However uncomfortable those verses might be, lol.  Proverbs 21:19 reads

Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife.

 Um, I could also say that it would be better to live in the desert than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered husband, but Proverbs was generally written as advice to a young man, so we'll give the benefit of the doubt here that the advice was to a HIM so it would, of course, reference a wife.  But...in that day and time,  the lady rarely had any say in whom she married; it was usually determined by a deal between her dad and her groom.  Or sometimes, the groom's father.  So advice on whom to marry wouldn't be helpful to a bride back then.  BUT...now, it could be equally applied.  We, in America, choose our own spouse.  Choose wisely.  

Song of Songs is a poetic celebration of the physical delight of marriage, even though I must confess I have often wondered which of Solomon's 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3) Shulamith was.  Kinda takes a little of the shine off of the narrative in that light, but, given that marrying one's daughter to a powerful king was often the binding part of a treaty or alliance, I suppose it's not surprising that 700 warlords, tribal leaders,  local princes, or kings of neighboring countries wanted to be 'family' to Solomon in some way.  But, be that as it may, Solomon and Shulamith were married, and they quite clearly enjoyed that relationship.

Who is this coming up from the desert like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and incense made from all the spices of the merchant? Look!  It is Solomon's carriage... (SoS 3:6-7a)

From the context, it's possible that this is describing Solomon coming to claim Shulamith as his bride, although it isn't specific enough to say that for sure.  In the very least, he is coming  to her, whether as a groom or a returning husband may not matter that much.

Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover? (SoS 8:5)

This is a repeated theme;  that the desert is a place of solitude and intimacy, solidifying relationship.  God forged the nation of Israel in the desert and brought them out to claim the promise;  Solomon and Shulamith went to the desert for some quality time together, and the bond between them was observable when they returned. 

So...I can, kind of, pull some marriage advice from these three verses.  Choose carefully,  continue to show your spouse you care enough to prepare for time together, and get away to a place of solitude where you can focus on each other from time to time.  Invest in the relationship.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Blogging Bible Study: Digging in the Desert - Psalms, Part 4

 Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

I didn't make a note of it, but last week ended the first year ('first' year...ha ha ha!) of the current Friday series (Facepalm; I just realized today is Saturday.  I worked from home all day yesterday and it didn't even register that it was Friday...).  We are looking at the word 'desert' through the entire Bible.  Starting year two with the biggest topical grouping of 'desert' verses in the Psalms...those that reflect on Israel's history.

The largest concentration of these is in Ps. 78:

He split the rocks in the desert and gave them water as abundant as the seas; (v. 15)

But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the desert against the Most High. (v. 17)

They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the desert? When he struck the rock, water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly.  But can he also give us food?  Can he supply meat for his people?"  (v. 19-20)

How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland! (v. 40)

But he brought his people out like a flock;  he led them like sheep through the desert. (v. 52)

I highly recommend going back and reading through the whole psalm;  it is a full discussion of all the ways Israel rebelled...and what happened.    I am skipping 95:8 for now...it fits better at the end of the discussion...and the next cluster of verses is in Ps. 105 - 106:

He opened the rock and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. (105:41)

He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. (106:9)

In the desert they gave in to their craving; in the wasteland they put God to the test. (106:14)

So he swore to them with uplifted hand that he would make them fall in the desert, make their descendants fall among the nations and scatter them through out the lands.  (106:26-27)

Again, to get the full scope of the confession of Israel's rebellion and God's faithfulness, both Psalms need to be read in full.  The distilled version of the Exodus...and what happened, with the repeated rebellion and complaining of the people and God's repeated visitation of consequences upon the people while still maintaining his promise to bring the nation out of the desert...is sobering. There are three roots of rebellion that are laid to view in those Psalms...1) they craved stuff from their former life  2) they were jealous of their leaders and 3) they didn't trust God to do what he said he would do.

Appetite, jealousy and lack of faith....any one of those three can wreak havoc in one's spiritual walk; taken as a combo, well, there's not much spiritual walk happening at that point.  And here's what hit me afresh as I read through it...God's plan and God's purpose is not thwarted by man's disobedience.  God will do what he said he would do...but the ones who choose rebellion risk being culled from those who see the promise. God did not disqualify them...they disqualified themselves.  

Ps. 136 starts off with a declaration:  'Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.  His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods.  His love endures forever.  Give thanks to the Lord of lords; His love endures forever' (vs 1 - 3).  The rest of the psalm is a litany of different descriptions of the God to whom they are giving thanks, and verse 16 is the one that mentions the desert:

to him who led his people through the desert; His love endures forever.

The Psalm ends with verse 24: 'Give thanks to the God of heaven.  His love endures forever'.

We tend to forget sometimes that the Psalms really are poems and songs.  136 is clearly poetic, with the repeated phrase.  A good reminder.

But the verse I saved for last in the Psalms seems to reflect so much from this set, especially.  Ps. 95:8 (with context):

 "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,  as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did."  (Ps. 95: 7b - 9). 

God woos the hearts of mankind, calling us to himself.  Such a wooing provokes a response...and the response is either to turn to him and draw ever closer, or to reject the invitation.  Oh, we tell ourselves we're not rejecting him...we're just...putting it off to a more convenient season.  Or maybe we convince ourselves that what we felt wasn't really God.  Maybe like the rich young ruler, we perceive the cost as too high...whatever.  Resisting the heart-pull to come to God is the very definition of hardening one's heart.  And every time that hardening happens...it gets harder to hear and respond differently to that call.  

God calls each of us to Him.  Each of us responds...in one way or another.  Choose wisely.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Post number 1, 000 - Reader Appreciation

I happened to look at the post counter tonight and it read '999'....

 One thousand posts in a little over 12 years at Beer Lahai Roi. It's been a journey. 

To those of you who have been here all the way...thanks for hanging with me. 

To those of you who have joined along the way...thanks for hanging with me, too, lol. 

Seriously, this is a 'talking to myself outloud' kinda blog, so I know it's not the kind of thing that really appeals to the masses. The dozen or so of you who stop by faithfully are greatly appreciated. 

If I could, I'd have a party for all of us together. That would be fun. But...I'm just going to have to say 'Thank you all!!!' :-)

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Has 'Church' Become an Idol?

 Posted by Lisa Laree to Beer Lahai Roi

This is something that has been percolating in the back of my head for a while now.

Now, by 'Church' I am not talking about the universal body of Christ.  I mean...our routine, typical Sunday Worship Experience...however that looks in whatever denomination.  The building and its accoutrements.  Stained glass windows?  Cushioned Pews?  LED Wall and smoke and lights?   Robed choir?  Orchestra?  Sister Bertha on the organ?  The jammin' rock band behind the worship team?  First, Second, and Last verse?  The latest [Bethel Worship, Hillsongs, etc] displayed phrase by phrase on the overhead screen?  You know...church.

It really doesn't matter because every one of those styles represents something that is COMFORTABLE to folks, even if it would be uncomfortable to others.  Too loud, too long, too boring, too predictable, too unorganized...whatever.  We all gravitate to what feels right to us.

I wonder...did we stop thinking about what God meant when he said we were not to forsake gathering together?  

Now, please don't take this as a criticism.  I'm not after being critical or judgmental.  I enjoy and am blessed by the worship experience at my church, as I am sure you are by the worship experience at yours.  

But the events of the last few months has really got me thinking...and wondering.

Particularly when I hear folks getting vehement about their 'right' to have church services in the manner in which they are accustomed.

Here's something to consider.

Now, this is the United States, where we are guaranteed the right to worship and the right to assemble.  But what happens when we, the body of Christ, begin to demand our constitutional rights in the face of a potentially devastating condition?  Not wanting to get into a discussion of whether Covid is a threat or  a hoax; even the folks studying it are not sure of its long-term implications.  But it has killed folks, and it is unusually contagious in that a fair percentage of folks can be ill with it and either be asymptomatic or have such mild symptoms that they don't even realize they are carrying it...and so spread it to others, who may not be so fortunate.  Which is why I used the phrase 'potentially devastating'.  Because we just don't know.  And I agree that it is hypocritical...at best...to allow folks to congregate for protests and deny permission to folks to congregate for worship.  But are 'our rights' worth making followers of Christ sound petulant and concerned only with themselves?

Paul addresses the idea of legal rights somewhat; granted, it's not the same situation (and Paul was known to play the 'rights of a Roman citizen' card at times...but always as a last resort, never as a way to show up those in authority), but I think the principle applies.  "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?" he writes in 1 Cor 6:7b; imploring with the Corinthian believers to consider what their actions said about Jesus in front of an unbelieving world.

Which brings me back around to my title question...has doing church in our accustomed fashion become an idol?  So that it is more important to stand on our rights as Americans and go to church than it is to actually worship the Father in spirit and in truth?  Are we giving too much importance to organized church programs?  Am I only able to worship God if I am sitting in my church?  Can my kids only learn about the faith in the kids' ministry programs?  Is the only place a person can come to faith a legit sanctuary?  If that is true, then church is a necessity.  But if it is not true...then maybe church has become a substitute for an actual relationship with God.  And if that's the case...then it's an idol, my friend.

God is in control.  Covid 19 did not take Him by surprise, and I don't think the closures of activities...including church services...has offended Him.  Maybe...he's even allowing this to shake us out of our comfort zone and reliance on church services and programs instead of personally seeking to spend time in his presence one-on-one.  Maybe it's time for the body of Christ to dig into scripture individually and pray for personal discernment on how to deal with the current season.  Maybe this is even training for days ahead, when we will need to be able to seek and hear from God continually... instead of, you know, a couple times a week at church.

I don't know.  I honestly don't know. But I do know that it DOES MATTER how we represent Jesus in this season...and that responsibility to faithfully represent him supersedes our 'rights'.

Food for thought.