In That Day (Isaiah 2:17-18)

The pride of man will be humbled
And the loftiness of men will be abased;
And the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,
But the idols will completely vanish.

Isaiah 2:17-18

The Bible has much to say about that day — the day in which the LORD sets up His kingdom on Earth. One of the things said often about it is that He will upend all existing hierarchies. This chapter of Isaiah speaks of the hill on which Jerusalem sits being made the highest mountain in all the world. Whether that stature is literal (physically taller than any other mountain) or metaphorical (more important than any other mountain) remains to be seen, but the prophecies of the End do speak of God rearranging topography before He hits the reset button.

So what has the End to do with the here and now? Everything. These verses mention idols and pride and the loftiness of men. There are so many things that vie for my attention. Some of those things vie for the attention that rightly belongs to God. One day, God will wipe those things out. But one day can be today within me. Pride is the first sin and, I suspect, the one sin from which most if not all others derive. God will humble men’s pride one day, but I can invite Him to humble me here and now. The whole idea of loftiness is, I think, that of mankind exalting ourselves. We think we are something amazing, but we think so for all the wrong reasons. Instead of seeing ourselves as the pinnacle of creation and giving glory to our Creator for such a thing, we think ourselves the crowning achievement of some impersonal process and congratulate ourselves on having been clever enough to figure it out. We, in short, invert the paradigm that John the Baptist presents when he says that Jesus (and, by extension, the Godhead entire) must increase and John (and, by extension, me and every other person) must decrease. I can wait for the day when God takes away mankind’s lofty opinion of himself or I can get my view of things right today.

These verses, for me, boil down to a reminder and a challenge. The reminder is that God is going to put things in their proper order in that day. I can wait for that day, or I can take up the challenge. The challenge is to invite God to begin setting things in their proper place within me right now. That day can be today in my own heart.

Father, please set things in order within me this and every day. Be lifted up. Be glorified. Be the only One I worship. And please make me humble. I need to be a humble man, for I have much to be humble about.

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Reason Together (Isaiah 1:18)

“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the LORD,
“Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.

Isaiah 1:18

In context, God supplies this invitation to Israel while they are in rebellion against Him. Though they are committing every kind of wrong imaginable, He invites them to sit down and reason together with Him. Jesus says that He did did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, so there is a great deal of consistency in the invitations.

I felt compelled to look up the verb tenses and moods and such, because I am that kind of word nerd, and found a couple of things to be very interesting.

First, the invitation to come is in the imperative. This is not so much a request as a command. It is comparable to a parent with a rebellious child saying that they need to talk. It is not an invitation so much as a command to park it and get to chatting. There are those who would chafe at God striking such a tone, but He frames His relationship with such as are His in the context of Father and child. So the tone is appropriate. Moreover, the verse is not addressed to the pagans and non-Israelites, it is addressed to the Israelites; God’s chosen people.

Second, the invitation to reason together is in the imperfect which means that it can be understood as an ongoing action. God is not saying that He expects Israel to have a sit down with Him one time and then everything will be copacetic thenceforward. What He is saying is that He expects this to be an ongoing conversation; a running dialog between Him and those He has chosen. In short, He is inviting them to a relationship, not a religion.

Great. This verse is handed down to Israel. What is that to me? Rather a lot, actually. Malachi will later record God’s statement that He does not change. If God does not change, then His offer to Israel is open to all who choose to follow Him. He commands them to sit and invites them to talk. He does the same for the Christian. Jesus told His disciples to get to a secret place and talk with the Father. Jesus commands the believer to do what God here commands Israel to do: Sit down and reason with God.

Why sit and chat with God? What good does it do? Quite a bit. God makes a promise in this verse. He promises that my sins, though they be like scarlet and red as crimson, will be white as snow and like the whitest wool. His promise is cleansing. More promises follow in the verses after this — promises of blessing to the obedient and discipline to the disobedient — and those promises, in their generalized phrasing, still hold true to the Christian.

Let me sit and reason together with God this and every morning. As I do so, I will gain a relationship with Him, understanding of His Word, and other blessings to be named by God at a later date.

Unquenchable. Costly. Love. (Song of Songs 8:7)

“Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor will rivers overflow it;
If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,
It would be utterly despised.”

Song of Songs 8:7

Two comments are made about love in this verse; two observations made.

First, the overcoming nature of love. The verse says that many waters cannot quench love / nor will rivers overflow it. This is a trait of the kind of love that God commands believers to have for Him and our neighbors. There are great word studies out there about the kind of love God wants me to have for Him and the kind of love He wants me to have for others and neither of those types of love is much affected by circumstance. This morning is a moment to examine my love for God and for my neighbors: is it affected by circumstance?

Second, the intrinsic value; the costliness of love. Solomon notes that If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, / it would be utterly despised. The syntax of that in English confuses me a bit. There is a question in my mind about whether the it refers to love or to the action of giving all the riches of one’s house. If it refers to love, then there is the strange statement that you can potentially buy love, but you would come to despise it — possibly because of how costly it would be. As this makes no sense, either in context or with regard to human experience, this is probably not the right way to understand this verse. If it refers to the action of giving everything in exchange for love, then the implication is that the action itself would be despised — possibly by the doer of the action or by the one to whom the trade is offered. If I gave everything I had and gained love, then I would look at the cost of gaining love and think it a pittance. If I were to offer everything I have in exchange for love, then the person to whom I made such an offer would likely think the price too low. In either case, both parties agree: love is worth more than anyone can give in exchange for it. Paul will, in his first letter to the church at Corinth, speak about what love is and how important it is, even going so far as to say that every other spiritual gift is meaningless if I do not have love.

These two observations about love give me a moment to reflect. Is the love I bear God and others unquenchable; indomitable? If yes, great. If no, I have some work to do. Also, am I getting hung up on the cost of love? It may cost a great deal to love. Am I counting that cost like a financial person counts pennies or am I consumed with the need to love at any cost? God thought loving people worth everything up to and including His own life. Who am I to love less?

A Lily among the Thorns (Song of Songs 2:2)

“Like a lily among the thorns,
So is my darling among the maidens.”

Song of Songs 2:2

Song of Songs or Song of Solomon is one of the more perplexing books in The Bible. Not because its subject matter is obscure or in some way difficult to determine, but because it is a mystery why it is included in the scriptures. Verses like this morning’s alleviate some of my own confusion.

There are two ways in which I understand this verse: the literal way and the metaphorical way.

In the literal, Solomon is speaking to his bride and giving voice to just how special she is to him. She must have been pretty special, because he had hundreds of wives and concubines and — as far as we know — he only wrote a song for one of them. Just one. She is special to him in a way that no other woman ever manages to be. In this, I find something approaching an application for me. Solomon wrote love poetry/a song for this woman he loved. I should take the time and effort and energy to perform gestures that my wife appreciates. Much of what she appreciates is what is commonly thought of as “the little things,” but that seems to make it more difficult for me, as men (myself included) seem wired to perform the grand, sweeping gestures sporadically rather than regularly performing the little, workaday gestures that some women (my wife included and especially) prefer. My wife is special to me. I need to be certain that she knows that.

The metaphorical understanding is substituting Jesus for Solomon and the church for Solomon’s bride. The church is called “the bride of Christ,” so that bit of substitution is not as far-fetched as some would have it. To Christ, His church; His bride is unique and beautiful and specially-beloved of Him. This means that I, as a believer, am beloved of Christ and seen by Him as special and unique. He does not address any two believers in precisely the same way. We are all unique. We are all beloved.

Before ending this entry, it should be noted that it is dangerous to spiritualize the song in its entirety and ends with a sort of “Jesus is my boyfriend” mentality that is frankly unscriptural. Portions of Song of Songs are frankly erotic. If some of it may be applied and other portions are dangerous, how is one to make the determination? My line is drawn between the declarations of love and those of desire. To tell my wife how special she is to me and how beautiful I find her is an expression of love and is meant to build her up — both things that jive with Christ and His relationship with the church; we are beloved of  Him and He does want to build us up. In other verses, Solomon says things that are erotic in tone which are expressions of desire. While desire may be given us by God — I certainly think it is within the context of marriage — it does not follow that there is something analogous in God Himself. There may be something higher of which desire is only a shadow, but I have not seen it explained anywhere in The Bible. So the line I draw is between love and desire; between the higher and the lower. It might be safer to take this book as a manual on how to continually woo my wife and for my wife to understand how to help me feel secure in our relationship … the bride has quite as much to say as the groom in this song.

Time to bring things to a close. First, I need to be sure that my wife knows how beautiful and unique and desirable I find her. She is a lily among thorns and I should be certain that she knows that. Second, Jesus sees me (and every believer) in a similar fashion. We are special and beautiful and different than what surrounds us. He loves us. Last, I need to be exceedingly careful when applying passages of this song to Christ’s relationship with the church. This book of The Bible is a love song and expressions of love will sometimes (but not always) translate from the lower (person-person) to the higher (God-person). If it flows, then it flows, but the application should never be forced.

In Conclusion (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

The conclusion, when all has been heard: fear God and keep His commandments, because this [applies to] every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

The conclusion to what is one of the more depressing books ever written and to Solomon’s examination of life and death; wisdom and foolishness is that I should fear God and keep His commandments. This conclusion is reached after informing the reader multiple times that everything is vanity; futility; meaningless.

I find myself wanting to find some way to dig into these verses and pull out something deep and hidden, but they are pretty self-explanatory.

Fear God. I am brought back to this concept over and over again and wonder if it is because I do not rightly fear God or if I just need to be reminded to fear Him as I once feared my parents.

Keep His commandments. Pretty straightforward, this. In the final estimation, obedience is vital. Jesus would later say that we are His friends if we do as He has commanded us. Jesus would also boil down all of the commandments to two: Love God and love your neighbor. Not easy to do, but easy to remember.

For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil. Christians believe that there are two different judgments coming; one for the lives lived without the blood of Jesus Christ over them and one for those lived washed in Christ’s blood. One judgment will be a reiteration of everything done wrong. One will be a remembrance of everything done in service to and out of love for God. This verse is a reminder to me that nothing I do is overlooked by God. He sees everything I do — good and bad — and He will bring it all out into the open. I should try to live in such a way that having my deeds and thoughts brought into the open will not be an embarrassment.

Fear God. Obey God. And remember that everything will be brought out into the open for inspection in the end.

Opposite of Expected (Ecclesiastes 9:11)

I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:11

When I was graduating high school, the school decided to change the game when it came to graduation speeches. Instead of the top two folks being forced to give a speech and everyone else being forced to endure those speeches, they held a contest open to any student who wanted to give a graduation address. I entered with a speech that incorporated this very verse.

Solomon wrote these words as a sort of hymn to futility. He saw that one could be exceptional and still not be successful in their endeavors and felt the urge to throw up his hands in disgust. The battle did not always go to the warriors; those trained in warfare. Every now and again, the battle goes to the civilian. The story that probably persisted about Solomon’s father, David, and a certain giant named Goliath might have been part of this conclusion. The swift runner is not always the one who wins the race, hence the fable of the tortoise and the hare. He looked at the fact that everything seemed a throw of the dice and he mentally threw in the towel.

What Solomon left out of his calculations here is God. Sure, time and chance — what we often call the law of averages — catch up with everyone. And mediocrity is sometimes rewarded. Bureaucracy certainly does nothing to discourage it. But God (one of my favorite phrases) is not bound by averages, nor is He a fan of mediocrity. While time and chance will, if left alone, continue along their merry way, God has a history of getting involved. The battle does not always go to the warriors. Sometimes, it is just random chance that the dice fall on snake eyes for the ones who “should have” been victorious. Sometimes, God plays with loaded dice — as in the case of David against Goliath and Gideon and his three hundred against a couple hundred thousand and Jehoshaphat against similarly “impossible” odds. Sometimes the Tishbite on foot beats the chariots home. The Bible is brimming over with such examples.

Yesterday, I was told that yet another person has left the company for which I work. I can choose to see this as the way the dice landed; just some random thing. Or I can choose to see the hand of God moving everything — absolutely everything, including this seemingly ancillary detail — toward the end He has determined. The battle may not always go to the warrior. The race may not always go to the swift. Food may not always come to the wise nor wealth to the discerning. Whether those anomalies are the result of time and chance or the hand of God is not terribly important. My response is. Will I, like Solomon, want to throw in the towel and stop bothering to even try or will I receive both good and “bad” as Job did? Will I declare everything pointless (Solomon) or will I remember that the Lord gives and the Lord is well within His purview to take away (Job)?

Let me receive everything — good, “bad”, and indifferent — with the same view as Job. And let me learn from Solomon that wisdom divorced from God leads to exasperation.

Delayed (Ecclesiastes 8:11-13)

Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed quickly, therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil. Although a sinner does evil a hundred [times] and may lengthen his [life], still I know that it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But it will not be well for the evil man and he will not lengthen his days like a shadow, because he does not fear God.

Ecclesiastes 8:11-13

When I read verse eleven, I felt myself nodding in agreement and thinking, “Yeah, it’s all this delay to punish crimes that increases crime.” But this morning time between God and me is not for me to sit down and look for messages for others, but messages for me.

These verses are important. All Bible verses are important, but these hit me this morning. Is the premise true that failure to follow-through on punishment or delay in punishment encourages others to commit the same crime? My observation says that it is. But more, the apparent lack of punishment for sin encourages others to run headlong into the same sin.

I am becoming fairly open about the things from which God has delivered me and is still in the process of delivering me. But I did not just wake up one morning and think, “I should go commit fornication today.” The process whereby I descended to the place where I committed that transgression was a gradual series of compromises that involved sins that were not punished, or not punished in a way that I understood as such. It also involved seeing others who called themselves Christians doing the very same thing without being punished. Neither of these excuses the transgression, but they serve as part of the explanation of why these verses impact me as they do.

I saw nominal Christians involved in viewing pornography and nothing seemed to be happening to them. I saw the same type of person engaging in various sexual sins and saw no punishment or discipline forthcoming. The more I failed to see the discipline of God come to those who called themselves His children, the more I wondered if I could do the same things without fear of punishment or discipline. The short answer is: No.

What I never saw was the price that was paid: relationships destroyed; hearts broken; any sort of witness brought down in flames; a loss of integrity. The list is much longer than that. That, however, is the price of sin and transgression that is often invisible. While the discipline of God may seem to delay in coming, sometimes I think God is letting the full price be paid before He hands down His discipline. In the parable of the prodigal son, the wasteful son had to spend everything he had before he would return to his father. I do not think the parable was meant as a How To manual, but as an illustration. Sometimes, it takes total exhaustion of our every resource to bring us to a place of repentance. Sometimes we have to ruin ourselves before we will look for our Father’s help.

By the grace of God, I had not demolished everything before repenting. But that is a testament to His grace, not to anything in me. A rather large portion of the life I had built came crumbling down around m ears before I came to God.

The intangible benefits of peace with God are many and it will be well for those who fear God, who fear Him openly. But the cost of my wrongs is high and God will sometimes allow the consequences of my actions to set in before He disciplines. Truly it will not be well for the evil man.

The application of these verses boils down to: Fear God and obey His instruction without regard to whether or not those who disobey His voice are disciplined or punished while I look on. I know that discipline will come to such as belong to God and punishment is the ultimate destiny of those who reject Him entirely. Just because it is delayed does not mean it will not arrive.