Hope in the Psalms

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Recently, life seems to have been a series of calamities.

COVID continues to ravage the world.

Those still struggling to leave Afghanistan are terrified for their very lives.

Countless communities are struggling to clean up after Ida.

Burnout, hopelessness, and despair feel like they’re everywhere.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a way forward from all of this. But such a way seems elusive – at least right now.

Of course, calamity in life is nothing new, nor is it anything avoidable.

Theologians have noted that within the book of Psalms, there are different genres of Psalms:

There are Psalms of Praise that honor God for who He is.

There are Wisdom Psalms that offer guidance for and through life.

There are Royal Psalms that give thanks for the ancient kings of Israel and yearn for a coming king, sent by God, who can rule the world.

There are Psalms of Thanksgiving that reflect on the good things God has done.

And there are Psalms of Lament that shed tears when life does its worst to us.

It is, of course, not surprising to read of tears and fears when the Psalmist is lamenting some tragedy. What is surprising, however, is that in even many of the sunny Psalms, there are still notes of melancholy.

For example, Psalm 40 is a Psalm of Praise, but the Psalmist praises God because He has rescued him from a terrifyingly terrible time:

I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire. (Psalm 40:1-2)

Psalm 104 also praises God, but nevertheless says of God:

When You hide Your face, Your creatures are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. (Psalm 104:29)

Though the Psalter has a few purely positive Psalms scattered throughout, for the most part, even the happiest of Psalms are salted with notes of need, sadness, judgment, and helplessness.

That is, until you get to the end of the book. The final Psalm sings:

Praise the LORD. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens. Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness. Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with timbrel and dancing, praise Him with the strings and pipe, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 150:1-6)

Here is sheer praise – sheer joy. But it comes at the end of the book.

Though we may have moments in this life of pure joy, like the Psalms, for the most part, our lives are salted with notes of need, sadness, judgment, and helplessness. But the End is on its way when we – yes, even we who have lost our breath in death – will have our breath restored and we will praise the Lord.

As we continue to encounter calamity, may we look forward to that day when we praise God everlastingly.

September 13, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Perceiving and Understanding

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In Matthew 13, Jesus tells His disciples about a farmer who goes out one day to scatter seed. Some seed falls on a path, where it is eaten by birds. Other seed falls on some rocks, where it springs up, but then quickly dies. Other seed falls among the thorns, which proves also not to be fertile ground. Finally, some seed falls on good soil, where it springs up and yields a crop. In Jesus’ telling, the seed is His word and our hearts are different kinds of soil. We are to hear His word and let it take deep root in our hearts, like the good soil.

After He finishes His parable, Jesus’ disciples ask Him:

“Why do you speak to the people in parables?” (Matthew 13:10)

Jesus’ answer is insightful and unsettling all at the same time:

The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. This is why I speak to them in parables: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:11, 13)

Jesus’ final line is an allusion to Isaiah 6:9. The disciples, Jesus says, unlike the crowds who listen to His parables, see Him and perceive who He actually is. They hear Him and understand what He is actually saying.

But not all the time.

In Luke 24, after Jesus has risen, He appears to two of His disciples while they are walking along a road, but they do not recognize Him. They see Jesus, but they do not perceive who He is. Jesus then asks them what they are talking about. Ironically, they are talking about Him – His death and reports of His resurrection. Jesus responds by explaining to them how the Scriptures forecast, foretell, and point toward Him. But they still don’t get it. They hear Jesus, but they do not understand what He is saying. They are those of whom Isaiah once spoke. The disciples in Luke 24 are behaving like the crowds in Matthew 13.

One of the struggles of the Christian faith is that no matter how much we study, learn, experience, or walk with Jesus, we still have blind spots. There are things we see, but don’t perceive – hear, but don’t understand. Even if we are disciples, we still have a bit of crowd in us.

Walking in faith, then, means “walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). It means admitting that for all we may assume we see and know, there’s still plenty of room to grow. But this limitation also leaves blessedly endless room for maturation. This is one of the reasons Christians have been studying the Bible and meditating on the life of Jesus for millennia and are still learning. The treasures of God are inexhaustible.

After Jesus explains how the Scriptures point to Him, the disciples invite Him over for supper, still clueless to who He is. But then:

When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him. (Luke 24:30-31)

The disciples perceived and understood anew. This is an experience that can happen for us, too. So, keep seeking to perceive and understand. Jesus will open your eyes as you break bread with Him and He breaks bread for you.

September 6, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Meeting With God

Jacob's Ladder, Bible, Line Art, Landscape, Biblical
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There is an interesting line in Galatians about how Moses received God’s law:

The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. (Galatians 3:19)

When God gave the law to Moses, He mediated it through angels.

Angels regularly serve as mediators between God and people. When God has a message to deliver to a young maiden named Mary about how she will bear God’s Son, He delivers it through an angel. When God wants to notify her husband-to-be that the son in his fiancé is miraculously conceived, He sends an angel to deliver the news. When God wants to take the apostle John on a tour of heaven, He does so using an angel.

In Genesis 28, Jacob is at a low point in his life. He has become a fugitive from his home and family because he stole the family inheritance that rightly belonged to his older brother, who, when he found out, vowed to make Jacob pay with his life.

One night, while Jacob is camping out in the middle of nowhere, he has a dream:

He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:12)

As theologian Richard Bauckham points out, the stairway Jacob sees is probably climbing the side of a ziggurat, which was a tower commonly built in ancient Mesopotamia that was meant to “touch heaven,” as it were, so that the peoples of that day could ascend it and meet with their gods.

But Jacob’s dream comes with a twist. As in so many other dreams and visions, there are these angels, who one assumes are there to mediate Jacob’s meeting with God as he climbs the stairway on the ziggurat. But this dream is different:

There beside him stood the LORD, and He said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.” (Genesis 28:13)

In Jacob’s dream, God is not at the top of the ziggurat, waiting for angels to mediate his meeting with Jacob. Instead, He has come to the bottom of the ziggurat – to where Jacob is – to stand “beside him” and to meet with him directly.

When Jacob realizes what has happened, he declares:

“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17)

It turns out that Jacob is only partially correct in his analysis of what has happened. Jacob believes the Lord was “in this place” – the place where Jacob happened to be sleeping that night. He perceives his meeting with God as a chance encounter. He just happened to stumble across the place where God was.

But this is not what God tells Jacob when He speaks to him in his dream. He does not tell him that He dwells in a place, but instead that He desires to dwell with His people:

“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.” (Genesis 28:15)

God has not bound Himself to a map, but to mortals. This is why when God wanted to demonstrate His presence most fully, He came to mortals in a mortal who brought immortality by His resurrection.

God is with us. We don’t need to climb a ziggurat or wait for an angel to meet with Him. For we have met God directly in His Son. What Jacob got a glimpse of, we have received the fullness of.

August 30, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Moral Imperative of Afghanistan

The scenes out of Afghanistan these past two weeks have been nothing short of horrific. Scenes of Afghan civilians clinging to the side of a C-17 as it took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport, desperate to escape the predations of the Taliban, are now seared into our collective consciousness. Stories of people hiding in the wheel wells of U.S. military planes, and then being crushed by their landing gear, are jarring reminders of just how quickly this nation is deteriorating as the U.S. ends a 20-year mission there. So many people’s lives are under threat from Taliban extremists – from U.S. citizens who have not been able to leave to Afghanis who have served, often valiantly, assisting the U.S. military. Already, there are stories of the Taliban beheading Afghanis who assisted the U.S. military and fears that the group will sexually enslave women who do not follow the organization’s strict interpretation of Sharia Law.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. launched a military campaign against the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks and was assisted by the Taliban, which provided safe shelter for Al Qaeda. In the decade prior to this, the West lived largely under the philosophical influence of Post-Modernism and its smug amoralism. Universal standards of right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness were largely relegated to outdated and culturally embedded categories from a religiously superstitious era. The modern world had no need for such sanctimoniousness.

But then, planes were plowed into the tallest towers in New York City, sending them crumbling to the ground, and thousands of people lost their lives in an instant because of 19 terrorists, and the amoralism of Post-Modernism shattered. There was no way around it – what happened that day was evil. We needed the categories of morality to describe the gravity of what we all experienced that day.

In the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Nico Jacobellis was charged with two counts of possessing and showing an obscene film at a theatre he managed and was ordered to pay fines according to State statutes. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that Mr. Jacobellis’ was Constitutionally protected under the First Amendment’s free speech clause. In Justice Potter Stewart’s concurrence to the ruling, he famously wrote of obscene material, “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” Though I may quibble over how well Justice Stewart knew obscene material when he saw it, his broader moral argument is an intriguing one. How do we know when something is obscene or not? How do we know when something is wrong or not? It is possible to make an argument that we just do. We just know it when we see it.

The apostle Paul identifies the source of this innate moral compass when he writes of people who are not believers in the true God:

When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15)

The reason we all have an innate moral compass that knows evil when it sees it is because we are hardwired that way by God.

On September 11, 2001, we saw evil – and we knew it. The question was: how would we react to the evil we saw? We chose to go after the terrorist organization that attacked us and, in the process, made many friends in Afghanistan. As we now bring our mission there to a close two decades later, we are seeing threats of evil from the Taliban and desperation among many innocent and threatened Afghanis – and we know it. The question is: how will we react to the evil that we see?

That’s a question that, politically and nationally, we have yet to figure out precisely how to answer. But it’s a question that demands an answer – for the sake of what’s right and for the sake of people’s lives.

August 23, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Sword That Brought Life

Credit: Fra Angelico, c. 1440

Jesus’ use – or non-use, as the case may be – of swords is puzzling. Shortly before His arrest, Jesus confers with His disciples and instructs them to carry a sword:

“If you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And He was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in Me. Yes, what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment.”The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.” “That’s enough!” He replied. (Luke 22:36-38)

The disciples are ready to go with swords just in case Jesus is attacked by His enemies. And just verses later, Jesus does face an unjust arrest at the hands of His adversaries, and one of His disciples brandishes his sword to defend his master. But Jesus does not seem all that pleased that this disciple is wielding the very weapon He just asked him to bring:

When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And He touched the man’s ear and healed him. (Luke 22:49-51)

What is going on? Why did Jesus ask His disciples to bring weapons if He didn’t intend His disciples to use them?

Jesus’ given reason for asking His disciples to bring swords is interesting. He quotes Isaiah 53:12:

It is written: “And He was numbered with the transgressors.” (Luke 22:37)

Then, Jesus explains that this ancient prophecy applies to Him:

I tell you that this must be fulfilled in Me. Yes, what is written about Me is reaching its fulfillment. (Luke 22:37)

Jesus’ disciples bringing swords to His arrest would have been of no small interest to the Roman government. They would have suspected Jesus of attempting to lead an insurrection, the penalty for which was death. He would have been considered to be a transgressor by the Roman government, just like Isaiah said He would be.

When Jesus asks His disciples to carry a sword, then, He, in one way, almost seems to be planting a weapon that will number Him among transgressors and lead Him to a cross. Thus, Jesus carries a weapon not so He can destroy His enemies, but so that He can die for them – and for the world. For even though Jesus will not pick up a sword, He will be pierced by one:

One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. (John 19:34)

A sword did its job – but not in the way anyone expected. Swords usually bring about death. The sword that pierced Jesus ultimately brought forth life. And that’s good news – for because Jesus got the sword, we receive salvation.

August 16, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Scrolls, Lions, Lambs & Leadership

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In Revelation 5, John is in the thick of a heavenly vision when he sees a scroll with writing on both sides. This vision hearkens back the call of the prophet Ezekiel, who also sees a heavenly scroll:

Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. (Ezekiel 2:9-10)

When God calls Ezekiel, He gives Ezekiel His words to speak, even if these words are words are difficult words of judgment.

But when John has his cherubic vision of a two-sided scroll, things have changed:

Then I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. (Revelation 5:1-3

Ezekiel’s scroll was unrolled. John’s scroll is sealed.

When John sees that the scroll is sealed, he has a bit of a breakdown:

I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. (Revelation 5:4)

John wants to know what’s in the scroll! Words of divine judgment? Words of divine grace? But no one can unroll the scroll – that is, until John hears a voice:

One of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:5)

John is instructed to direct his attention to a Lion who can open the scroll. But then, in a strange and fantastic shift in images, this Lion turns out to be a Lamb:

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders … He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who sat on the throne. (Revelation 5:6-7)

John sees Jesus as a Lion, but also as the Lamb.

Jesus can indeed be a Lion. His interactions with the religious leaders of His day demonstrate how He fiercely fights those who oppose God. But He is also the Lamb. He doesn’t just roar in judgment, He goes quietly to a cross for our salvation. And it’s Jesus’ sacrifice as the Lamb that allows Him to open these seals:

When He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. … And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slain, and with Your blood You purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Revelation 5:8-9)

If given the choice, I suspect that many of us would much rather be like a lion and not so much like a lamb. After all, lions are strong and command respect and even fear. But Christ willingly derives His authority from His sacrifice as the Lamb, even though He already had all authority as a Lion.

As we lead, do we seek to be a lion, or do we willingly sacrifice as a Lamb? The willingness to sacrifice is not normal. But it is Divine. And it is how we want Jesus to lead us. After all, if He led us only as a Lion, we would be devoured in judgment. But as the Lamb, He leads us by grace. May we lead the same way.

August 9, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Joshua Paused the Battle of Jericho

When I was a kid, I would sing a song in Sunday School called “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” It was all about Joshua’s conquest of the infamous city, whose walls came “tumblin’ down.” The song was fun to sing, but it also recounted a chapter from Israel’s history that has long been troubling to a lot of people. Israel’s conquest of Canaan, beginning with Jericho, involved a lot of violence and slaughter, which raises an important and understandable question: how could a good God lead His people in such violent warfare?

When Joshua fights this inaugural battle against the people of Canaan, the battle plan God gives him is a strange one:

See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in. (Joshua 6:2-5)

God says to Joshua He will bring the walls of the city down, but only after six days of open marching.

In ancient battle plans, the element of surprise was key. Just a few chapters later, Adoni-Zedek, who is the king of Jerusalem at this time, moves to attack the Gibeonites because he does not like that they have made a peace treaty with the Israelites. The Gibeonites ask for Joshua’s help, which he delivers when he takes Adoni-Zedek in battle “by surprise” (Joshua 10:9). Surprise was standard.

But there’s no surprise at Jericho. The chapter opens by noting that “the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites” (Joshua 6:1). The people of Jericho knew a defeat was imminent. So why would Joshua wait? Why not just make those Jericho walls tumble on the first day instead of waiting until the seventh?

Before they reach the Promised Land, Moses describes God’s character to the Israelites like this:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6)

God’s desire and nature is not to destroy wicked people in anger, but to patiently wait for them to turn to Him. Indeed, even when a prostitute from Jericho named Rahab trusts in God and helps the Israelites, He gladly spares her (cf. Joshua 2). The six days of marching, then, are six days of waiting – six days of God waiting for the people of Jericho to repent. Before Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, he paused the battle of Jericho.

When God first promises the land of Canaan to Abraham, He says to Abraham that he will have to wait to enter it because its sin “has not yet reached its full measure.” 675 years pass before Joshua fights the first battle against the people there. It turns out that God is not only patient with sinners, He is very patient.

Thus, the violent warfare of Joshua’s day is not the story of a vengeful God gleefully destroying sinners, but the story of sorrowful God who has waited and waited for sinners to repent, but to no avail.

God is still patient with sinners today. His invitation to us remains the same: turn to Him and trust in Him. Sin does not need to destroy you, for His Son can save you.

August 2, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Who Has the Power?

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Christians declare that God has all power. We live, however, like we have the power.

A few weeks ago on this blog, I recounted the famous battle between David and Goliath. When David goes to do battle with this terrifying and towering titan, there is no question over who truly has the power to win this battle. As David says to Goliath:

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down. (1 Samuel 17:45-46)

God has the power to win this battle. And He demonstrates His power through David.

But then, David becomes king over Israel. And, at first, David continues to acknowledge and believe that God is the One who has all power and is the source of his power as king. Early in his reign, when David is readying his army to fight the Philistines, we read:

David inquired of the LORD, and He answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the LORD has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” (2 Samuel 5:23-24)

The Lord is the One who will lead the strike on the Philistine army. He is the One with the power.

But by 2 Samuel 11, things have changed – drastically. David now clearly sees himself as large and in charge. He sleeps with a woman named Bathsheba, who is not his wife, and kills her husband Uriah, who serves valiantly as a soldier in his army, to cover up his affair. Instead of relying on God’s power to win his battles, he abuses his own power for his own pleasure and pretense.

Power, it seems, comes with a problem: when we get it, we have no idea how to use it. When David has no power as a shepherd boy fighting a giant, he does better than when he has massive power as a king who can get anything – or, as in the case of Bathsheba, anyone – he wants whenever he wants. Power without wisdom and righteousness is not profitable. It’s pernicious.

The apostle Paul writes very personally about power:

In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Paul fears that, if he was ever to get too much power, he would wreck everything in his conceit. Therefore, he boasts and delights in his weakness, for his weakness allows Christ’s power to work through Him. And Christ is much better at using power than he is.

Andy Crouch writes of power:

Power at its worst is the unmaker of humanity – breeding inhumanity in the hearts of those who wield power, denying and denouncing the humanity of the ones who suffer under power.

This is certainly how David uses his power with Bathsheba and Uriah. But what about power at its best? Crouch continues:

The Father’s love for the Son and, through the Son, for the world – is not simply a sentimental feeling or a distant, ethereal theological truth, but has been signed and sealed by the most audacious act of true power in the history of the world, the resurrection of the Son from the dead. Power at its best is resurrection to full humanity.

God is good with power. He uses it for us and not against us. He demonstrates it through us and not merely over us. Power that rests only in humans destroys humans. But power that is from God can restore humans.

God is good – and gracious – with power. This is why we can celebrate every time we pray:

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

July 26, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What Is Lost Is Found…Finally

In a story that could have been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter, after a 24-year search, Guo Gangtang of Liaocheng, which is in northern Shandong Province in China, was reunited with his 26-year-old son, who was kidnapped when he was just two. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Guo’s son, named Guo Xinzhen at birth, disappeared on Sept. 21, 1997. He had been playing at the door of his home while his mother cooked inside, according to interviews the elder Mr. Guo has given over the years.

A frantic Mr. Guo and his wife, along with family, neighbors and friends, fanned out across the region to search for the boy. But after several months, the effort waned. That was when Mr. Guo attached large banners printed with his son’s photo to the back of a motorcycle and set out to find the boy on his own.

“Son, where are you?” the banners said, alongside an image of the boy in a puffy orange jacket. “Dad is looking for you to come home.”

But now, after crisscrossing China on ten motorcycles for nearly two-and-half decades, Guo did come home. Through tears and hugs, the family reunited.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable about a lost sheep:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

Jesus spins a touching story of a shepherd who refuses to give up his search when one of his little lambs becomes lost. But this story is not really about sheep. It’s about us. Jesus explains:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:7)

When we wander off in sin, we have a loving heavenly Father who doesn’t just crisscross a country, but crisscrosses heaven and earth in His one and only Son, who searches for us so that He can reunite us with God.

Guo’s story and Jesus’ parable invite us to ask: who do we know who has wandered away from our family or from God’s family? Even if they’ve been away for a long time, all hope is not lost. A call, a note, or a conversation over coffee may be just the thing needed to invite them back into the fold. People are always worth searching for. How do I know? Because God searched for you and me.

I’m thankful I was found.

July 19, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Tale of Two Lamechs

Credit: “Lamech and His Two Wives” by Phillip Mendhurst / Wikimedia

A week ago on this blog, we looked at the genealogy in Genesis 5, which recounts the lineages of the first humans. We focused on one member of this genealogy in particular, Enoch, who, we are told, “was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Though Enoch’s life of 365 years may seem outrageously high compared to our contemporary lifespans, compared to the other people in the genealogy, many of whom lived nearly 1,000 years, his life could be said to have been “cut short.” We discovered, however, that a life cut short is not an indication of a curse. God can bless a short life with eternal life, as He did with Enoch.

This week, I’d like to focus on another character in this genealogy – Lamech, a descendant of one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Seth, and the father of Noah:

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:28-31)

This is the second Lamech we meet in Genesis. The first was a descendant of another one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain. This first Lamech was filled with anger and vengeance:

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Genesis 4:19-24)

Here we find history’s first instance of a polygamous relationship and the second instance of a murder. This first Lamech walks in the footsteps of his forefather Cain as he kills a man, just as Cain killed his brother Abel. This Lamech even refers to his ancestor Cain, to whom God gave the promise of protection in a stroke of grace even after his heinous murder of his brother. After punishing Cain by sending him to a distant land, God promises him: “Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” (Genesis 4:15). This Lamech tries to outdo God’s vengeance with his own vengeance, threatening vengeance seventy-seven times over (Genesis 4:24).

This leads us back to the Lamech of Genesis 5. This second Lamech serves as an antithesis to the first Lamech. Whereas the first Lamech willingly participated in the curse of death brought on by sin, this second Lamech seeks to stymie that curse. When God first cursed Adam after he fell into sin, He said:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17)

This Lamech says his son Noah will:

…comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed. (Genesis 5:29)

The second Lamech seeks righteousness and comfort while the first Lamech sought vengeance by death.

Notice also his lifespan – 777 years. God’s vengeance on Cain’s behalf was seven times over – one seven. The first Lamech’s vengeance on his own behalf was seventy-seven times over – two sevens. But the second Lamech’s righteous life is 777 years – three sevens. It turns out that righteousness and comfort outdo vengeance and violence. The second Lamech’s three sevens crush the first Lamech’s two sevens.

It can be easy to follow the way of the first Lamech. When someone hurts us, we reflexively want to take vengeance. But the way of the second Lamech is where hope is found, as we yearn for someone to undo the curse sin has brought into this world. The second Lamech’s son, Noah, survived the curse of a flood, but was ultimately not unable to undo the curse of sin. But there was One who came from this line who did. Indeed, He reverses the curse of the first Lamech. When one of His disciples, Peter, asks Him:

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

The first Lamech’s vengeance is overcome by Jesus’ forgiveness, who is the second Lamech’s hope. May He be our hope, too.

July 12, 2021 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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