Sea will Become Pastures

Gaza will be abandoned and Ashkelon left in ruins. At midday Ashdod will be emptied and Ekron uprooted. Woe to you who live by the sea, you Kerethite people; the word of the Lord is against you, Canaan, land of the Philistines. He says, “I will destroy you, and none will be left.” The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks. That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes. – Zephaniah 2:4‭-‬7

Today’s passage is talking about a geographic area that is frequently in the news today, the Gaza strip along the Mediterranean Sea. It sounds like God is predicting a change in ownership and perhaps a change in geography.  Many of the cities mentioned in this passage are still on the map today cities like Ashdod and Ashkelon.  This territory was granted to Israel as part of the 1949 armistice agreement, although it is still a very contentious area.

The water-related part comes toward the middle of the passage when God says “The land by the sea will become pastures having wells for shepherds and pens for flocks.” I do not know a lot about the soils or agriculture of this area, but in my experience land by the sea is not a good place for pastures or wells. This is primarily because of several factors that are related to proximity to the sea: 1) sandy soils devoid of nutrients; 2) shifting sands and sand dunes which can cover crops; 3) salty soil as a result of salt in the air; and 4) salty groundwater.  In order for this areas to become pastures one would have to overcome these problems.

Parts of this area are clearly settled and being farmed today.  Some of this is made possible by extensive desalinization plants located near the sea in the Gaza strip.  Interestingly one of the largest of Israel’s desalinization plants is located in Ashkelon. About 15,000 to 16,000 cubic meters of seawater is converted into fresh water every hour and provides about 15% of Israels fresh water supply. So this is not exactly a “well” but it certainly is functioning to provide the water needs of a lot of people in the region.  The question is whether this is a well the people did not dig or not.

There is apparently also a lot of hydroponic agriculture in this area as well.  Farmers sometimes raise fish as part of the closed loop water system to provide both protein and fertilizer from the fish that are raised.  Again this is not exactly “shepherds and pens for flocks” but it is close.  I suppose one could see the current geography and political boundaries as a fulfillment of the statement “That land will belong to the remnant of the people of Judah; there they will find pasture. In the evening they will lie down in the houses of Ashkelon. The Lord their God will care for them; he will restore their fortunes.”

I am not saying that the current state of affairs is a fulfillment of this prophecy. I do not know, and I am not going to wade into the deep water and political debate about who owns this land and whether the people of Israel should be there or not.  In my experience God is much more interested in breaking down borders and opening doors than creating or maintaining barriers to keep out our neighbors.

I think regardless of who owns the land, and what they are doing with it, the main take home message for me here is in the last sentence of the passage, “The Lord their God will care for them”.  What this “care” looks like is open to debate and depends somewhat on the posture and perspective of the person receiving God’s care.  I suppose one could argue that the knowledge, wisdom, and skills being used by modern settlers in Israel is a gift from God to allow them to be in this diffuclt to settle land. I think what God desires is that we acknowledge His care and ownership of all that we have regardless of our nationality, religion, or political background. In the end God wins.

Prayer: God everything we have is really Yours, help us to acknowledge Your care and ownership.

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A Day of Clouds and Blackness

The great day of the Lord is near— near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath— a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness— a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. “I will bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind, because you have sinned against the Lord . Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the Lord ’s wrath.” In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth. – Zephaniah 1: 14‭-‬18

I was going to entitle this post “a day of clouds” but it turns out I already have a post by that name from Ezekiel (Ezekiel 30: 1‭-‬19) so I chose the entire phrase “a day of clouds and blackness”.  In Ezekiel the “doom” was coming from Egypt and I concluded that one’s view of “the clouds” depends somewhat on where one is standing relative to God.

In today’s passage the “doom” appears to be coming from Babylon and it is being visited on all those who have “sinned against the Lord”, although the wrath being described here sounds more global in scope, “In the fire of his jealousy the whole earth will be consumed, for he will make a sudden end of all who live on the earth”. Either way its bad.

The outlook here is pretty bleak God indicates He will “bring such distress on all people that they will grope about like those who are blind…Their blood will be poured out like dust and their entrails like dung. The blindness I get and maybe it is not so different from the blindness we experience everyday as “cave dwellers” when we try to approach the light.  The other part of the description contain two murky metaphors to be sure.

What does it mean for “blood to be poured out like dust”.  I think of dust as soil or dirt without water.  I guess in a sense that is what we all are when we are separated from our “water source“, God, dust without water.  So what God is saying here is that this calamity will come and the people who do not seek God, their blood will be poured out like dust.  The people who do turn back to God and seek Him would presumably have access to the spring of Living Water that God provides and regardless of the consequences for their earthly vessel their souls would be poured out to be with God.

The second metaphor is even more bizarre, “entrails like dung”.  Entrails have come up a few times along my float so far.  Most notably in Leviticus 1:5-13 when God speaks about entrails and animal legs.  My impression of entrails is it is something best left where it is serving a purpose like in the body of the owner.  So to take something that is already pretty gross and say that it is filled with something equally gross, “dung” paints a pretty bleak picture for those who separate themselves from God by choice.

Unfortunately, this particular passage ends without much hope or resolution except the implicit hope that is in ours though choosing not to be “dust” by planting ourselves near the One River that can keep us from becoming “dusty”.

Prayer: God this passage paints a bleak picture or separation from You.  Help us to seek You so we do not become dusty and dry.

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Swept Away Part II

“I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,” declares the Lord . “I will sweep away both man and beast; I will sweep away the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea— and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.” “When I destroy all mankind on the face of the earth,” declares the Lord , “I will stretch out my hand against Judah and against all who live in Jerusalem. I will destroy every remnant of Baal worship in this place, the very names of the idolatrous priests— those who bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host, those who bow down and swear by the Lord and who also swear by Molek, those who turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.” Be silent before the Sovereign Lord , for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. – Zephaniah 1:2‭-‬7

Welcome to the book of Zephaniah, another book for which I must plead woeful ignorance soon to be rectified. Apparently Zephaniah was the great- great- grandson of King Hezekiah so he has that going for him. He was also a contemporary of Jeremiah and lived in or near Jerusalem around 641-610 B.C. The book of Jeremiah was a wealth of water imagery and wisdom so I am looking forward to this stretch of water and the insights it may hold. I wanted to title this post “swept away” but I discovered that I had already used that title back in Hosea (Hosea 4: 1‭-‬3).

Clearly the passage today is about judgment for people who have gone astray and are not following God. God will sweep away all the “fish in the sea”.  This is an interesting way to put it in that the previous book of Habakkuk people were being compared to fish and being caught in a dragnet or on with hooks. It seems to the “net” and “hooks” are actually idols, “the idols that cause the wicked to stumble”.  This showed up back in Jeremiah when the people asked the rhetorical question “Do idols bring rain?” (Jeremiah 14:19-22). The answer provided here is no God is the Father of the Rain.

One of the specific issues being addressed here is Baal worship, essentially placing trust in someone or something other than God.  The people were also looking to the stars for wisdom as they “bow down on the roofs to worship the starry host”. I can appreciate the stars on a clear night, but that is something different than looking to them for wisdom or insights about how to live or who to love.  It sounds like the people were involved in astrology of some sort trying to divine the future or make decisions based on the positions of the planets and stars.  There are many people that still do this today.

In addition to Baal and star worship the people “turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him.” So the people are not faithfully following God. They are “turning back” from their “turning back” which results in heading the direction you were heading in the first place.  They are living as if they do not need or want God.  What God really wants is for us to “seek the Lord” and “Inquire of Him”.  This should not be so hard.

God is not asking for perfection here, in fact it sounds like he is asking for the people to acknowledge they are flawed followers and go looking for Him. He wants us to ask questions and be curious about Him rather than the motion of the stars or some idol on a shelf. He wants to engage in this somewhat confusing celestial game of hide and seek with us.  I get the sense that it is in the seeking and inquiry that we find Him.  He is not found in the idols, altars, or even the priests that He sometimes uses to get, and keep, our attention.

The passage ends with some powerful words “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited”.  The “sacrifice” sounds like an allusion to Jesus.  Those who follow Him are “the invited”.  It is interesting that God instructs the people to “be silent” before the Lord. It seems the way to God is not through many words or even many actions, it is through seeking, asking, and listening (being silent). God is the Living Water and He wants us to be thirsty.  If this passage is representative I think I am going to like the book of Zephaniah.

Prayer: God help us to seek, ask, and listen so that we can live and love the way you intended.

 

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Churning the Great Waters

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Flower Pot Rocks in the Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada

In wrath you strode through the earth and in anger you threshed the nations. You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot. With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters. – Habakkuk 3:12‭-‬15

Well that was a quick float through Habakkuk.  The is the last water passage of the book as far as I can tell. If I were to sum up the entire book into one sentence it would be “remember who is Boss (God)”.

In this passage God is striding about “threshing nations”.  This is an interesting way to describe the wrath of God.  I typically picture plagues and pestilence as “wrath of God” stuff.  Threshing implies a purposeful pummeling, i.e. to separate the grain from the chaff if this is referring to the kind of threshing with which I am familiar. This idea is born out by the next sentence where Habakkuk says “You came out to deliver your people”, with the “You” being God.

Then the passage gets really interesting in that part of what God will do to “deliver His people” is to “save your anointed one”.  This sounds like a reference to Jesus to me, a reflection of Him, and the strange work that He came to accomplish.  Then the wrath of God turns from deliverance to something more akin to the violence in the movie Deliverance.

“You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot”.  This could certainly be a reference to an earthly king or ruler of the time, but it also would describe the deceiver, or the king of this land of wickedness we call earth.  The passage goes on to say “With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us”.  This sounds like a prophetic reference to an actual battle rather than a metaphorical reference.  Presumably the “us” is the people of Israel.

Near the end of the passage comes the water reference “You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters”. This seems like a murky metaphor.  How can horses trample the sea?  I suppose if they could it would probably “churn up the sea”.  This seems like a reference to the Red Sea parting to me, but I could be wrong. In that case the “you” here would be the invader and the their trampling the sea would be more like trampling the sea bed until the waters closed in on them to their doom.

I am struggling to extract hidden wisdom from this passage, perhaps it is one of those passages that I just float by and admire the scenery.

Prayer: God thank You for coming to deliver us in a powerful and mysterious way.

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Angry with the Rivers?

Lord , I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord . Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy. God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth. His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden. Plague went before him; pestilence followed his steps. He stood, and shook the earth; he looked, and made the nations tremble. The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed— but he marches on forever. I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish. Were you angry with the rivers, Lord ? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory? You uncovered your bow, you called for many arrows. You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. – Habakkuk 3:2-‬10

Writhing mountains and splitting rivers – this passage is filled with interesting earth imagery. A veritable smorgasbord of similies. This passage is part of what has been referred to as “Habakkuk”s prayer”. It sounds like a nostalgic yearning for a mighty “Mad Max” sort of God who will come and kick some a**. The God being described here has both might and mercy – the Lion and the Lamb. The reference to “Mount Paran” appears to hearken back to the Israelite’s sojourn in the desert and the tangible God who provided for them there.

Habakkuk acknowledges the eternal nature of God “The ancient mountains crumbled and the age-old hills collapsed— but he marches on forever.” This is reassuring when it feels like the physical world around you is crumbling and under siege.

Then comes these three really interesting questions: “Were you angry with the rivers, Lord ? Was your wrath against the streams? Did you rage against the sea when you rode your horses and your chariots to victory?” The short answer to these rhetorical questions is “no”, God’s wrath is directed at rebellious and flawed people not places or phenomena like floods, rains, and waves.

God’s wrath has rained down on the Egyptians, the people in the time of Noah, and even on Job for a season. In each of these cases God was interested in restoring relationship rather than rearranging the earth. The “earth splitting” with rivers and “writhing mountains” were merely the megaphone to get people’s attention who had become hard of hearing and seeing.

Part of me wants to cry foul at this use of nature to achieve God’s relational restoration. Why should God take out His anger on the earth when it is people who are to blame?  But then again who am I to question the wisdom and ways of God.  I think perhaps most of these seemingly random acts of destruction and calamity are actual part of the spiritual cycle that is largely invisible to our earthly eyes.  We have become too accustomed to the “dark” for our eyes to see clearly in the “light”.

The passage ends with some powerful water imagery: “You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high”.  There is a very clear sense that God is Father of the Rain and Lord of all creation.  Interestingly, from a water science perspective, the earth is actually “split” by rivers through erosion. The earth is dissected by water and it is what shapes our planet and moves millions of tons of earth every day.

I think the take home message for me is that God is capable of doing the same thing sort of dissection and shaping in the spiritual realm for all of the souls that are willing to be shaped in this Land of Oblivion.  He may choose to do this through what seems like hard or “destructive” things from an earthly perspective.

Prayer: God shape our souls into the people you need us to be.

Posted in Covenant, Discernment, Discipleship, Following God, Free Will, God's Love for Us, Habakkuk, Love for the Lost, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waters Cover the Sea

“Woe to him who builds his house by unjust gain, setting his nest on high to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life. The stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it. “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice! Has not the Lord Almighty determined that the people’s labor is only fuel for the fire, that the nations exhaust themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. – Habakkuk 2:9‭-‬14

Today’s passage is God’s response to Habakkuk’s second complaint which was the subject of yesterday’s passage about the dragnet.  It seems God is trying to get the people of Israel to realize they are partially to blame for the calamity for which they are complaining to Habakkuk, they are a city of “bloodshed” and “injustice”.  Perhaps God is referring to clan warfare similar to the blood lust and body parts described in the book of Samuel. I do not know.

There is a sense that the people are investing their time and treasures in the wrong things.  God wants to strip them down to the soul and leave them naked and needy for ” Him.  God has made it abundantly clear through a parade of prophets that the people are “exhausting themselves for nothing”. They are chasing after the wind.  This passage has almost an Ecclesiastes-like hopelessness.

Interestingly, it appear that this hopeless desperation comes not from a lack of knowledge of God, but a willful ignoring of something that is self-evident: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”.  This water reference is intriguing on several levels.  It appears to be an almost exact quote of a passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 11: 6-9) Let’s unpack the parts and see if we can make sense of the whole.  There are three parts: 1) the “earth will be filled”; 2) with the “knowledge of the Lord”; and 3) as “waters cover the sea”.

The first part reminds me of some of the water imagery describing God’s presence arriving like the dew in the morning (Isaiah 26:12-21), or the discussion of dew or deep wells back in the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 33:13-17).  The image of dew permeating a landscape is a really good metaphor for the way God’s presence permeates, or “fills” the earth.

The phrase “knowledge of the Lord” was a common one used in the book of Isaiah to refer to a recognition that The loving deeds of God are evident everywhere if you have the eyes to see them.  It is almost as if it takes an active ignoring to miss this obvious truth.  A bit like a child sealing their lips and turning their head away to avoid taking a medicine that will actually help them get better.

The last part of the metaphor is where the water comes in and it is a murky metaphor to be sure.  How can waters cover the sea?  This would seem to be an impossibility.  The sea is water, so how can water cover water?  I think when we put the metaphor back together this will make more sense so here goes. God seems to be saying here that His presence is everywhere (like the dew) you care to look if you have eyes to see and look very carefully.  God is the logos (creative reason) behind all that we see and experience so in that sense He is the “water” that covers the sea. Phew! that was much trickier water than I expected when I first read this passage, but it was definitely an exhilarating and unexpected rapid for sure.

Prayer: God your love and presence is evident all around us.  Help us have eyes to see it.

 

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Dragnet

Lord , are you not from everlasting? My God, my Holy One, you will never die. You, Lord , have appointed them to execute judgment; you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish. Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? You have made people like the fish in the sea, like the sea creatures that have no ruler. The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy? – Habakkuk 1:12‭-‬17

Welcome to the book of Habakkuk! Apparently little is known about Habakkuk except that he was writing these prophecies sometime around the 600 years before Christ showed up. The format of his writing is a series of complaints and responses from God. The conversational style and content reminds me a bit of the book of Job. The main topic is the Babylonians and their invasion and the impact this has on the people.

Today’s passage is the second complaint lodged by Habakkuk. The gist of this complaint is contained in the two questions: “Why then do you tolerate the treacherous? Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” Essentially this is the question why to bad things happen to good people? The answer to this is deep water for sure.

What I think I have figured out so far in my float through the bible is that although God is the Father of the rain what we perceive as His judgement is often part of a larger “spiritual cycle“. The storm and hard rain that one receives may not be a result of God’s judgement, but rather collateral damage from a larger storm.

Habakkuk claims that God “made people like the fish in the sea, like the sea creatures that have no ruler.” He seems to be saying that God is not intervening in a tangible or meaningful way in the lives of the people that Habakkuk is referring too as “fish”. It seem to me that fish in the sea, although they may not have a ruler, are subject to all sorts of influences that impact their survival like water currents, storms, predators, etc.

The main point of the fish analogy seems to be that fish are subject to being “caught” by “the wicked foe” who “pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet”. It strikes me that there are at least two ways one could think about the fisherman “foe” described here: 1) the foe could be a contemporary enemy from Habakkuk’s time like the Babylonians, or 2) the “foe” could be an allegorical reference to the deceiver that rules the earth and is bent of snaring us so that we cannot return to God. The first one is self explanatory, but the second deserves some reflection.

Back in Ezekiel God used idea of fish and nets to help us understand ways that we are “self sufficient fish” (Ezekiel 29:1-10). In that reference it was Egypt and Pharaoh that were being hooked instead of the people of Israel. The point in that passage was that the people of Egypt had build an entire spiritual and physical ecosystem that was apart from God. Perhaps God is trying to make the same point here.

Prayer: God help us to rely on You rather than our own self sufficiency.

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