SOAP Journal – 12 April 2018 (2 Kings 11)

So [Joash] was hidden with [Jehosheba] in the house of the LORD six years, while Athaliah was reigning over the land.

2 Kings 11:3

When Ahaziah was killed, his mother, Athaliah, decided to stage a government takeover. She killed all of the potential successors to the throne. But she missed one: Joash. Joash, based on the math (Athaliah reigned for six years and Joash was seven when he was declared king), was only one year old when Athaliah — Joash’s grandmother — killed all of his siblings. It was only because Jehosheba — Joash’s aunt — took him to the temple of the LORD that Joash was saved. The account does not mention anything that Athaliah did during her rule. She is a footnote ruler. Worse, she was a person without natural love. She killed her own grandchildren. Everything that is recorded about her leaves the impression that she was the worst variety of person. Athaliah was so far removed from any worship of the LORD that it never even occurred to her in six years to just wander into the LORD’s temple. Not. Once.

I want to look at Joash, but his reign really begins in the next chapter, so I need to consider what Athaliah’s footnote reign and shriveled little heart have to teach me.

The worship of idols leads to the death of all affection for others, including natural love. Athaliah is selfish in taking the throne, that is a fact, but killing her own grandchildren to do so is a step beyond. So, it should not surprise me when people who are worshiping one idol or another do things that baffle me; things that betray a lack of natural love. The first example that comes to mind is women who kill their unborn children in the name of convenience. I am thinking of abortion, but a specific case. I am not thinking of women who are forced to make the agonizing choice between preserving their own life or their unborn child’s. I have compassion for them and wish I knew how to save them both. I am thinking of the women who have an abortion because the child is inconvenient. We in Westernized society have created a cult of convenience and we worship whenever it is convenient for us to do so. Men have destroyed their marriages and families in the pursuit of something they might not be able to name. All idols ultimately reflect us. We want what we want and we metaphorically carve the image to match. And all our love for others dies on that altar.

By contrast, worship of the LORD leads to love for others. Not worship of Who I think the LORD is, but of the LORD as He is. If I worship Him as I think He is or how I want Him to be, I am merely setting up another idol. But worshiping God as He is — in all of His holiness and righteousness and justice and compassion and love and mercy — will lead me to love Him and to love others, for God is love (1 John 4:7-8). And my God is not the milquetoast version of love portrayed in media — that is yet another idol — but the strong, enduring, ferocious love of the LORD Who would come and allow Himself to be crucified by His own creations in order that He might redeem us and cleanse us and win some of us to Himself.

Any idol would only bid me do as I wish and sate my desires for the moment — the idol is, after all, crafted in the image of me and my desires. The True and Living God bids me do as He does: take up my cross, follow Him, and He will make me like Him — i.e. I will learn to really Love.

Let me examine myself and see if I, like Athaliah, am worshiping some idol or another that is killing love in me. If so, let me tear it down and turn myself back to the True and Living God that I might Love.

Father, thank You for the examples in Your Word — even, and sometimes especially, for the bad examples. Please search me and reveal any idolatry in me. Tear those idols down and enable me to Love as You Love.

Advertisements

SOAP Journal – 11 December 2017 (2 Samuel 18:19-19:7)

5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, 6 by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.”

2 Samuel 19:5-6

After Absalom’s defeat and death at the hands of Joab, David receives the news of God’s deliverance from two messengers — a Cushite and Ahimaaz the son of Zadok the priest. Ahimaaz is the one who left later, but arrives first and brings news only of the defeat of Absalom’s forces. The Cushite arrives second and tells David that Absalom is dead. David hears the news of his son’s death and responds as a father who has lost a son: he is grief-stricken. Joab hears about it and rebukes David, expecting him to respond as a king who has heard that his enemy has been put down and that the kingdom can be at peace again.

Something that I found curious in reading this is that David asked Ahimaaz directly about Absalom’s well being and Ahimaaz deflected the question — The king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king’s servant, and your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I did not know what [it was].” (18:29). This is curious to me, because Joab told Ahimaaz in no uncertain terms that Absalom was dead — But Joab said to him, “You are not the man to carry news this day, but you shall carry news another day; however, you shall carry no news today because the king’s son is dead.” (18:20). There is in this an element of what I perceive to be Joab’s complete inability to understand people. Rather than send someone who perceives that David is both a king and a father, Joab wants to send someone who sees only the king. If the Cushite kingdom was anything like many of the ancient kingdoms for which there are records, then their kings may very well have been ready and willing to kill any upstart son who thought to take the throne from his father. Many kings in history have had just such an attitude. That was not David’s heart. David was not a good father, if the behavior of his children is taken as a litmus. But he loved his children. Ahimaaz appears to have been aware of this and wanted to let David celebrate the victory of his soldiers before having to mourn the death of his son. The Cushite had no such comprehension of the king — whether due to cultural differences or distance from the king (Ahimaaz was the son of the high priest and saw David in moments when he did not have to be a king or general) or some other factor, the understanding was not there.

Joab was right to rebuke David for mourning openly for his son in the sight of those who had just won victory on his behalf. These are the same people who had told David before the battle that he was worth ten thousand of them (18:3). The people had valued David greatly and he should have reciprocated. Instead, he appeared to place a higher value on their enemy than on those who had secured victory and returned the kingdom to David’s rule.

How to apply this?

First, the right person for the right job. Joab thought that Ahimaaz was the wrong person for carrying the news of the victory, when it appears that he would have more deftly handled the situation and allowed the victors to celebrate and the king to mourn all in their proper time.

Second, love rightly. Jesus says that anyone who loves parents or child more than they love Him is not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37). I need to love the right people and in the right proportion. David was right to love his son, but not to prefer his son over those who had put their lives on the line to protect David and the rest of his family and his kingdom.

Father in Heaven, thank You for this reminder that love is right and proper and has its right and proper application and proportion. Too often, I am told that love is not wrong and You tell me that it can be if it is for the wrong thing or person or in the wrong proportion. Please teach me the right way to love, that I might be worthy of You.

SOAP Journal – 14 July 2017 (Joshua 23:8)

But you are to cling to the LORD your God, as you have done to this day.

Joshua 23:8

This morning’s verse is part of Joshua’s farewell address to the Israelites. It is during this address that Joshua will give the Israelites the choice of whom they will serve: the LORD Who has performed miracles in their midst or the false gods of the peoples living in the Promised Land. That is the most often quoted passage in this book, I think, and there are teachings in abundance on the concept. Before Joshua puts the decision to them, he tells them which choice they should make and which they should not make.

The but at the beginning of this verse links it to what preceded, setting this verse up in contrast to what has just been said. Joshua previously told the Israelites to be very firm … to keep and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses. Since that statement agrees with this morning’s verse, it is not what this verse is contrasting. Joshua follows up his exhortation to keep and do the law with warnings not to mix and mingle with the nations still left in the Promised Land or to engage in the same worship as them.

Instead, Joshua tells the Israelites that they are to cling to the LORD [their] GodCling is one of those Bible Words that gets my ears tingling and my curiosity piqued. So I looked it up in the concordance. And it turns out that the verb used is the same verb used to describe how a husband and wife are supposed to relate to one another. The man is to be joined to his wife, and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Joshua is telling the Israelites that they are, to paraphrase a bit, be married to God.

In the Modern Westernized World (MWW), marriage has fallen into disrepute. I saw a movie trailer that seemed to be advertising a movie about marriage being an obsolete concept. While the MWW has lost respect for just about everything — especially marriage — there are places where people marry and stay that way; where the vows of not parting until death separates them are held sacred and kept. It was to a culture of this type that Joshua said that they were to hold fast to God in basically the same way a husband holds fast to his wife.

As a husband, that is some powerful imagery. This imagery not only gives me an idea of what I should want things to be like, but the verb has as another potential meaning (not in the way it is used in this verse, but as it is used elsewhere) of pursuing closely. The concepts bound up in this word choice are evocative. I am given the idea that I should hold fast to God; that I should be coming to Him with my rough days and with my summary of what happened today. I should seek out His presence and His company. And, as is the case with the relationship between husband and wife, there is a way that I can pursue Him to which He will respond and many ways to pursue Him to which He will not respond. Just as my wife receives certain actions and words as gestures of love, so, too, does God receive certain actions and words in that way. Just as my wife may perceive things that I think are acts of love as nothing really worth noting, so, too, does God.

There is a key difference — one of many — between God and my wife. God knows my intent. My wife does not always know what I am on about. God can see, as plain as day, that my words or actions are prompted by love for Him and He understands that my attempts to properly communicate that love will often be clumsy. This does not mean that He leaves me that way, but that He comprehends.

Joshua’s exhortation to the Israelites is to cling to the LORD. The same exhortation comes to me this morning. Things have been rough in many ways in recent times and I have not heeded this instruction as I should. I need to cling to the LORD [my] God. I need to yearn for Him in a fashion similar to (but not exactly the same as) the yearning I have for my wife.

Father, thank You for loving me and seeing my feeble love for You and my sad attempts at expressing that love. Please stoke the fires of love both for You and for my wife (since both are on my mind after this morning’s time) and help me to express that love in ways that can be received by the beloved.

SOAP Journal – 14 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 33:3)

Indeed, He loves the people;
All Your holy ones are in Your hand,
And they lie down at Your feet;
receive of Your words.

Deuteronomy 33:3

This verse is part of Moses’ blessing on Israel. This verse makes a few statements about God’s character and His interactions with His holy ones.

Statement One: Indeed, He loves the people. The word used, so my concordance tells me, denotes people in the sense of a people group or nation. In context and by the word used, this is about God loving the Israelites.

Statement Two: All Your holy ones are in Your hand. The word used for hand, again my concordance tells me, refers specifically to the open hand and denotes power or strength. God’s holy ones, the Israelites in this context, are under His power and protection and authority.

Statement Three: they lie down at Your feet. The translation I normally read, the NASB, included a footnote that this reading was also supported by the language in the phrase. And I find it to be more in keeping with what is said in the other parts of the verse as well as what happened in The Bible generally. The idea of lying down at one’s feet carries so many connotations that it would be difficult to unpack them all, but the two that come most readily to mind are the ideas of rest and of proximity.

Statement Four: they … receive of Your words. Dovetailing nicely with the concept of being close and at God’s feet is the idea of receiving His words. But the verb used does not seem as passive as the translation might indicate. Receiving something connotes a passive activity in which the receiver is acted on. But the verb used most frequently carries some meaning of taking. It is as if the idea is that the holy ones sit down at God’s feet so as to gain better access to God’s words that they might take those words and make them their own possession.

All of these are principles of how God deals with His holy ones; His saints throughout scripture. The apostles write quite a bit about how God loves us. Jesus, Himself, speaks of believers being given to Him by the Father; being in His hand by implication. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, literally sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to Him talk.

God loves me and I am in His hand. I can sit at His feet, metaphorically, as I do most mornings and listen for Him to speak to me. Let me rest in His care and avail myself often of the privilege of being close to Him and of hearing Him speak.

Father, thank You that You love us. You loved us before we loved You and demonstrated that love profoundly. Please make my heart desire to be in Your presence more and more that I might sit at Your feet and receive of Your words.

SOAP Journal – 09 June 2017 (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I have read these verses before. This is familiar ground on which to tread. But I had not noticed that the verses are connected. There is no full stop between them as there is with other verses to signal the end of a thought. Tee only full stop appears in the middle of one of the verses. The punctuation might be inserted by the translators — I do not know enough about Hebrew to be able to comment intelligently — but I agree with the notion that these are linked thoughts.

Moses calls heaven and earth to witness. Wrongs, according to The Law, had to be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. So Moses calls in two witnesses: heaven and earth. This could be the physical heaven and earth, as in the sky and dirt, or the spiritual Heaven and Earth, as in the abode of God and of humanity respectively.

The part of these verses that I want to zero in on is in the middle of things: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days.

Moses had gone over God’s promises — the pleasant and the terrifying — and God’s commands — even those that are difficult to understand — and what the consequences of obedience and disobedience are. Moses had set before the Israelites life and death, the blessing and the curse. God does the same thing for me through His Word and through those who teach it.

What this presentation should do is prompt me to choose life. The consequence of which is that I and my descendants will live. How do I choose life? I choose lifeby loving the LORD [my] God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him.

To love is a simple complexity. For example, I love my wife, but to live in such a way as makes that clear to her requires deliberate action on my part. I cannot blithely wander through life and expect that she will understand that I love her. Experience and available data do not support this idea. I must do things that she understands as loving her. Likewise, loving God is more than a feeling (now I have that song in my head), it is a deliberate choice to live out love as The Bible describes it.

Obedience is straightforward, but not always easy. I understand that God wants me to speak the truth in love, but some truths are difficult to take and trying to frame them in a gentle and loving manner requires a great deal of effort on my part.

Holding fast to God is a necessity if my faith is to survive the modern Western world. Everywhere, there are distractions and enticements that try to lure me away from the simplicity of the gospel and of my faith in God. There are outright assaults on the senses: billboards and advertisements of various kinds, music with earwormy lyrics and sounds and punditry blaring in almost every quarter. The Western world is an audio-video assault on my senses and my sensibilities. The only way to keep from being carried away by the waves of all this is to hold fast to God.

This is my life and the length of my days. If I want a full rich life and days that I can take pleasure in, then I must love, obey, and hold fast to God.

hank You, Father, for loving me first. Thank You for being dedicated to me before I was even aware of You. Please teach me to love and obey and hold fast to You so that I might walk in Your blessing rather than in the alternative.

SOAP Journal – 04 May 2017 (Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7:7-8

Moses, while giving instruction about what should be done to the nations that the Israelites would be driving out of the Promised Land, works his way around to reminding the Israelites of something they really ought to know and that I should also keep in mind.

Moses says, The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples. The Israelites were no nation at all when God chose them. He chose them back in the time of Abraham, when there was only one old man and his old wife who took God at His word. The Israelites were no mighty nation; no impressive people. They were chosen by God because God chose them. That is it. And Moses makes that clear.

Moses continues the thought and says that God did not chose them because they were great in number or any other such thing, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery. The thought is this: God did not love you or choose you because you were impressive in some way, but because He loved you and kept His promise to those who came before and who loved Him He has done great things for you. And the same principle applies to me today.

God did not choose me because of some impressive aspect of me. I am not all that impressive. God did not love me because of anything inherently lovable in me or about me. He chose me because I chose Him. He loved me because He loves me. God loves me because He loves me (I love this reason) and chose me because He promised that if I chose Him He would also choose me (I am also a fan of this reason). That is it. That is all. I have no features that were worth redeeming.

Thank You, Father, for loving me. Thank You for saving me. I know that I deserve neither, but You freely offer both and I needed only accept them. Thank You. Please work in me that I might walk worthy of Your love.

SOAP Journal – 07 October 2016 (Genesis 29:20)

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

Genesis 29:20

The So with which this verse begins reminds me that this seven years that Jacob serves for Rachel are an agreement of the wages that Jacob will receive for the work that he does for Laban … who happens to be his uncle.

I note that things were different back then. Jacob was staying with family and was working. There are instances in modern life in which people stay with family and mooch. It seems that such a thing was not tolerated back when.

Jacob’s family offered to pay him for his work. I have heard of instances of “family businesses” in which the relatives working there — usually the children of the business owner — did not receive wages. This, it would appear, was also frowned upon (at least when the worker was considered an adult).

And the part about which people are likely to get most upset is the fact that Rachel is not consulted with regard to whom she marries. She is given to Jacob as wages. This is a non-starter in modern Westernized countries, but it was the norm when this was written. I can get all angry and butt hurt about The Bible telling it how it is, or I can appreciate that The Bible does not sugar coat things and try to tell me that the world has always been the way that I experience it now.

The last thing I notice, and the thing on which I want to focus, is that Jacob’s service — all seven years of it — felt to Jacob like a few days because of his love for Rachel. I am not going to wander off on a romantic rabbit trail. I am focused on the fact that love for someone (or something) makes time go by more quickly. If I am doing something I love to do, then I can spend hours doing it and not notice that the time has gone by. Conversely, I have to slog through those times when I must do things that I find arduous. When I spend time with people I love — my wife, my kids, my parents and siblings (including in-laws), and my friends — time often flies by. It is as if the visit has only begun and it is time to leave.

Is it like that with God?

That is where this leads me this morning. I do not feel the urge to get sappy and romantic, but I do wonder if the time I spend with God flies by and if years seem like a few days because of love for Him. If no, I suspect it is because I lack love.

Father, teach me to love You better; to love You as You have loved and continue to love me. I know that my efforts to love are lacking, because there have been times when talking with You in prayer or reading Your Word have felt laborious. And it should not be that way. Please increase my love for You, so that the times we spend together are nothing but joy.