The Mind of an Animal

I, Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace, contented and prosperous. I had a dream that made me afraid. As I was lying in bed, the images and visions that passed through my mind terrified me. So I commanded that all the wise men of Babylon be brought before me to interpret the dream for me. When the magicians, enchanters, astrologers[b] and diviners came, I told them the dream, but they could not interpret it for me. Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.) I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me. These are the visions I saw while lying in bed: I looked, and there before me stood a tree in the middle of the land. Its height was enormous. The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches;from it every creature was fed. “In the visions I saw while lying in bed, I looked, and there before me was a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven. He called in a loud voice: ‘Cut down the tree and trim off its branches; strip off its leaves and scatter its fruit. Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches. But let the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field. “ ‘Let him be drenched with the dew of heaven, and let him live with the animals among the plants of the earth. Let his mind be changed from that of a man and let him be given the mind of an animal, till seven times pass by for him. – Daniel 4:4‭-‬16

In this passage King Nebuchadnezzar is hanging out in Babylon “contented and prosperous” and God gets his attention with a disturbing dream. I have had my share of disturbing dreams, usually after I have watched a disturbing movie or television program. When I was a kid my parents pretty much let me watch as much television as I wanted. I was the youngest of five kids and I think my parents were just plain tired of saying “no”.  I was also allowed to watch movies that were probably not so good for my young soul.  One such movie was the island of Dr. Moreau which was released in 1977.  This would have made me about 12 years old at the time it came out. I do not remember where I actually watched it, but I do remember it scared the heck out of me. I think what made it so scary for me was to see the main character, Andrew Braddock played by Michael York, slowly loosing his humanity as he was genetically transformed into an animal by Dr. Moreau. King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream is predicting something similar – he will be “given the mind of an animal”.

There is something particularly scary about things that look human, but are not really human. Perhaps that is part of the fascination and obsession our culture seems to have with zombies. I personally do not get the whole zombie thing. I remember I felt a similar sense of irrational fear when I first saw the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) with Donald Sutherland.  Seeing people transformed into something that looked human but was not human was disturbing.  In that movie the people were given the mind of an alien which is almost worse.  I also found it a bit ironic, and in hind sight a bit profound, that the movie ended with the song Amazing Grace played on the bagpipes. Ultimately, the only thing that separates us from animals and aliens is our humanity and the souls that reside within us.

But I digress, perhaps I am in still in “vacation mode”…back to the passage in Daniel and the reference to water. King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that he is sharing with Daniel so that Daniel, and God, can help him interpret and understand it.  The dream begins with the image of a large tree, somewhat reminiscent of the imagery that Ezekiel was given in his prophecy about Assyria shared with Pharoah (Ezekiel 31:1‭-‬18).  The “tree” in this case is Nebuchadnezzar and he is about to be felled by “a holy one, a messenger, coming down from heaven” – God.

The dream takes a somewhat confusing and odd turn next when after being cut down and stripped of branches and leaves (stripped down to the soul), “the stump and its roots, bound with iron and bronze, remain in the ground, in the grass of the field…drenched with the dew of heaven…”.  So it seems the power and prestige of Nebuchadnezzar will fall and yet he will be allowed the remain “a stump” bound with iron and bronze.  I am not sure I understand the reference to iron and bronze.  Perhaps it is an allusion to the culture and infrastructure that he has built up which will continue in his absence. I do not know.  It does seem that God is leaving the possibility that the king can potentially be restored and “regrow”.

He will be drenched with “dew from heaven”. In previous passages dew has represented the presence of God in the form of His spirit. It seems like this meaning makes sense here too.  God is saying that in order to be healed and restored Nebuchadnezzar must submit his heart and soul to God’s spirit, i.e. “drenched with the dew of heaven”.  He must allow his heart to be channeled as it was put back in Proverbs 21:1-3.

The take home messages from this passage from me are 1) don’t let your kids watch unlimited television and movies; 2) people placed in positions of power should be wary of becoming too contented and prosperous; and 3) in the end God wins no matter how much it seems like someone is “getting away” with being successful separate from God.

Prayer: God help us to view our possessions and positions as opportunities to accomplish your purposes rather than a place to simply be content and prosperous.

Posted in Daniel, Discernment, Following God, Obedience, Prophecy, reconciliation, The Nature of God, Trusting God, wealth | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Rack, Shack, and Benny

Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.” So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.  At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.  To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning and Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. – Daniel 1:11‭-‬17

Welcome to the book of Daniel. When I think of the book of Daniel I think of fiery furnaces, lion’s dens, and Veggie Tales episodes.  The stories from the book of Daniel make great VBS and Sunday school material – time will tell how big a role water plays and what insights God has in store along this stretch of the river.

The first reference to water is here in the first chapter. Daniel and others find themselves in Babylon, in exile. The king of Bablyon, Nebuchadnezzar, has drafted them to serve in his court. As a perk for their service the king wants them to eat “court food”. I am not talking about “food court food” which is a whole other thing which could arguably be more dangerous.

Presumably the food they are being offered includes meats, wines, and probably other items that God has asked His people not to eat.  Daniel and his compatriots propose a solution, vegetables and water, essentially a vegetarian diet in lieu of the royal food.  If after a time they look healthy then they get to continue with the vegetarian diet.

I was a vegetarian in college for a few years. This was in the days when dorm cafeterias were more like Animal House than Starbucks.  I survived on grilled cheese sandwiches and the salad bar. My reasons at the time were complex and multi-faceted.  I idolized Mohandas Ghandi, so part of my motivation was to emulate his diet.  Another reason was a desire not to kill things so I could eat. For me at the time it had little to do with anything commanded by God in the old testament.

The king’s representatives agreed  to the vegetarian diet for Daniel and his gang and they were given a pass on eating the royal food and wine.  They thrived physically and mentally and “God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning and Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds”.  God rewarded their faithful following of His commands. It think it is an important detail that God gave these young men their knowledge and understanding.  It was not a result of their diet and “clean living”.

It probably would have been much easier for these young men to just eat the royal food, but they chose to follow God even in what would seem to be a small thing.  As we will see this was merely a warm up for some harrowing “following” to come.

I think part of the reason God provides rules for His followers is not because He wants to “keep us in line” in a punitive way. God is not a school master or traffic cop just waiting to catch us in a broken law or rule. I think God is more like a coach and He wants to keep us in practice trusting Him with small choices and decisions so when it comes time for really hard ones, like stepping into a furnace, we are ready.

Prayer: God help us to be faithful in obeying your commands not to avoid punishment, but to acquire practice.

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Eddying out after Ezekiel

Erosion of sand dune along Lake Michigan, December, 2017.

Merry Christmas!  Well I finally made it through Ezekiel! Phew that was hard! I have been “stuck” in a recirculating eddy in Ezekiel since July 22, 2016! I started my float through Ezekiel with a reflection about the Kebar River. I lost focus and determination and was off the water for months at a time. I have been back on the water for the last couple of weeks and it feels good to get my daily dose of humility as I chew on sometimes confusing passages about wheels and rushing waters, self-sufficient fish, and shipwrecks.

My reentry onto the river has reminded me why I started this blog.  It is not so much about feeling an obligation to meet with God every day. It is about receiving daily sustenance and wisdom to feed my hungry soul. God has given me the freedom to choose to miss this daily source of “soul food”, but my soul suffers from malnutrition when I do.

I recently led a group of students on an observational adventure along the shores of lake Michigan for a class I am teaching. We were treated to some amazing December weather and we walked along a deserted beach and marveled at erosion of dunes that have stood for thousands of years.  The erosion  that is occurring is the result of high lake levels, and it is revealing ancient soils and other features long hidden by vegetation and more recent sand deposits.

As I have reflected on my departure from Ezekiel it occurs to me that my float through the old testament is like walking along these ancient dunes exposed in places for me to see.  As I float past passages long buried (at least from me) in the old testament I find hidden gems and wisdom that I was unaware of before. I think part of the reason for these revelations is that my beliefs and understanding of God have become buried in recent deposits of “sand”. God’s blessings have become encrusted and hidden by a lazy lack of curiosity and pursuit of God.

If God is truly eternal, then the God of Moses, Micah, and Meribah is the same God that I am attempting to faithfully follow – flawed follower that I am. Only by walking along side these ancient “dunes” of wisdom and experience can I fully understand the depth and complexity of God’s love for us in the past and in the present. The stories and prophecies of Ezekiel are like buried soil horizons of understanding that help me understand what is happening today.

I look forward to new adventures in the book of Daniel as I continue my float through the Bible which I will begin after taking a brief time to “eddy out” with my family for Christmas. I hope your holidays are full of peace from the Prince of Peace.

Prayer: As we celebrate the birth of God incarnate, Jesus, may your world and your walk with God be filled with peace and understanding.  May God’s amazing love fill you this coming year.

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The Area that Belongs to the Prince

The “pieta” by Michelangelo

So the property of the Levites and the property of the city will lie in the center of the area that belongs to the prince. The area belonging to the prince will lie between the border of Judah and the border of Benjamin.  “As for the rest of the tribes: Benjamin will have one portion; it will extend from the east side to the west side.  “Simeon will have one portion; it will border the territory of Benjamin from east to west.  “Issachar will have one portion; it will border the territory of Simeon from east to west.  “Zebulun will have one portion; it will border the territory of Issachar from east to west.  “Gad will have one portion; it will border the territory of Zebulun from east to west.  “The southern boundary of Gad will run south from Tamar to the waters of Meribah Kadesh, then along the Wadi of Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea.  “This is the land you are to allot as an inheritance to the tribes of Israel, and these will be their portions,” declares the Sovereign Lord  – Ezekiel 48:22‭-‬29

Well this is the last passage in Ezekiel. It has been quite an interesting stretch of river with many unexpected rapids and waterfalls. Today’s passage is really a continuation of previous passage which defined the borders of Israel. It could not be more timely.  In response to the United States  locating it’s embassy in Jerusalem the United Nations recently voted not to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. I am reminded once again how timely a prophecy from thousands of years ago can be.

This passage talks specifically about the area that “belongs to the prince”. This presumably refers to seat of power at the time for the nation of Israel, Jerusalem the city of David. I want to make it clear my intention here is not to wade into this political debate about who should control Jerusalem. Ultimately, I do not think anyone but God can take ownership of anything here on earth, this includes Jerusalem.

This passage suggests that it is the descendants of the tribes of Israel and the Levites that are to control this area, but as was mentioned yesterday foreigners living in that area are to be treated as if they were native-born Israelites, including with regards to inheritance. I am sure some have used this passage to argue that God has decreed that Israel should control Jerusalem.  I think this is a gross oversimplification. I can see how one could view this passage as a mandate for the people of Israel to exert sovereignty over Jerusalem. I do not think that is what this passage is saying.

I think it is saying that this area is in fact under the control of “the prince”.  Seen in the light of eternity I would say that “the Prince” referred to here is actually the Prince of Peace, the Messiah, Jesus.  Seen in that context it would mean that Jerusalem is owned by God, not Jews, Arabs, or anybody else who have taken ownership of it.

So what would this kind of radical view of ownership look like? I think it would look like nothing we have seen in the modern “peace talks”. It also would not look like the bloody battles of the crusades. It would look radically different. It would require all parties to take as their starting point that no one owns Jerusalem, or anything on this Earth for that matter. It is the Dominion of the “prince”, Emmanuel, who is the prince of all people, Jew and gentile, who call upon His name.

I find it interesting, and somewhat ironic, that the southern border of the region being described here is the “waters of Meribah Kadesh”  Moses and Aaron famously failed their “Meribah Test” when God asked them to faithfully follow Him and lead His people toward Him rather than away from Him. It strikes me that this is still occurring today.  There are leaders in Israel, from all parts of the political and religious spectrum, that are leading people away from God rather than toward Him.

Prayer: God may Your peace reign in Jerusalem and around the world. May leaders seek Your Prince of Peace.

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This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “These are the boundaries of the land that you will divide among the twelve tribes of Israel as their inheritance, with two portions for Joseph. You are to divide it equally among them. Because I swore with uplifted hand to give it to your ancestors, this land will become your inheritance.  “This is to be the boundary of the land: “On the north side it will run from the Mediterranean Sea by the Hethlon road past Lebo Hamath to Zedad, Berothah and Sibraim (which lies on the border between Damascus and Hamath), as far as Hazer Hattikon, which is on the border of Hauran. The boundary will extend from the sea to Hazar Enan, along the northern border of Damascus, with the border of Hamath to the north. This will be the northern boundary.  “On the east side the boundary will run between Hauran and Damascus, along the Jordan between Gilead and the land of Israel, to the Dead Sea and as far as Tamar. This will be the eastern boundary.  “On the south side it will run from Tamar as far as the waters of Meribah Kadesh, then along the Wadi of Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. This will be the southern boundary.  “On the west side, the Mediterranean Sea will be the boundary to a point opposite Lebo Hamath. This will be the western boundary.  “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe a foreigner resides, there you are to give them their inheritance,” declares the Sovereign Lord. – Ezekiel 47:13‭-‬23

The subject of this passage is borders and “inheritance”.  Just a few days ago the world was surprised by the announcement that the United States would locate the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, essentially recognizing it as the capital of Israel. I am not going to wade into this debate or discussion, but it seems that this passage has something to say about borders and how the people of Israel should view their “inheritance”.

God is fulfilling the promise he made when the people of Israel crossed into the Promised Land in the heart wrenching account of Moses having to give up the reigns within sight of the land he had worked so hard to lead the people of Israel to possess (Numbers 27:12-14). The boundaries of the land given to the twelve tribes of Israel is defined by bodies of water. The “lines in the sand” are virtually identical to those described back in Numbers 34:2-12. Back in numbers I concluded that the only way this “gifting” of other people’s land made sense was if the Israelites somehow misinterpreted and misused the lines in the sand drawn by God out of love.  This passage seems to bear this conclusion out.

This passage makes it clear that the land given to the people of is not intended to displace the people who are dwelling in these lands who are not Israelites, “You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.”  Not only are the people of Israel supposed to provide for the “foreigners” among them, but they are to consider them “native-born Israelites” and give them the same inheritance as the tribes of Israel.

It seems to me that to this day the people of Israel struggle to live up to the command that God gave them here in Ezekiel to treat foreigners as native-born citizens, presumably this would include Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, and others dwelling in the land defined here as Israel.  Of course it is easy for me to sit in my comfortable corner of the United States and say this.  I am not faced with a constant threat of violence and terrorist attacks.  Perhaps the act of acknowledging what God has commanded would result changes hearts on both sides and reveal a way forward toward lasting peace.  I do not know.  It does seems that past approaches to broker peace have not worked.

There is also an application here to the present immigration debate in the United States and perhaps a larger question about how the U.S. has treated the indigenous people of the North America, “foreigners” in the land.  I suppose one could call the tribal reservations an inheritance, but we certainly fall far short of treating native people as kin and part of our “tribe”.  This is something that has always troubled me and I wonder if there is another way forward to care for native people that would produce a better outcome. I wonder how things might have been different if we had offered membership in our “tribe” rather than isolation on reservations.

The take home for me from this passage is that we should hold all things which we consider our “inheritance” with an open hand. We should do our best to invite the “foreigners” in our midst to join our “tribe” even if it means that our “tribe” changes in profound ways.

Prayer: God You have gifted us with many things.  Help us to hold these things with an open hand, always reaching out to those that may feel like foreigners in our midst. 

Posted in Conflict, Covenant, Ezekiel, Following God, God's Love for Us, Life Together, Love for the Lost, The Earthly Realm, war, wealth | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Where the river flows everything will live

When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing. – Ezekiel 47:7‭-‬12

In many ways this passage is an extension of the passage from yesterday about a river that no one can cross. This passage is about how “the river” impacts its surroundings and helps those that are close to it to thrive. This passage contains an implicit tension between the separation which was represented by the river in yesterday’s passage and the profound provision that can be found for those that are close to the “River“.

The water in the river being described here is fresh, meaning it is not salty. In this desert environment fresh water has special value and meaning.  The effect of this fresh water flowing into a larger body of salty water is to freshen it, or make it less salty. In this case, the river is apparently flowing into the Dead Sea, one of the saltiest water bodies on earth.

All along the river there is abundant life, “where the river flows everything will live”.  There is also abundant life where that river meets the sea as this fresher water is a place where many fish can survive.  Areas that are isolated from the flowing fresh water source, like the swamps and marshes, are dead and have no use. There is a very real sense that the only way to survive in this harsh desert environment is to be close to the river, sinking roots deep into the fresh waters of the river. Only then are animals and plants able to thrive and bear fruit. Disconnected from this water source things wither and die.

Now to attempt to plumb this passage for deeper meaning. The obvious application that occurs to me is that we are to locate and place ourselves close to “river” so that we can thrive and bear fruit here in the desert-like land of Oblivion. I think in this case the river symbolically represents God and His Spirit.

So, as we learned yesterday, we have to accept that there is a “river” we cannot cross, but we also have to place ourselves close to the river and the nourishing Living Water that God provides as we are trying to work out what it means to trust God and “ford the river” with His help. I am not sure I have made much sense of this deep water, but I will push on down the river and perhaps it will become more clear upon retrospection.  Only a few more passages in Ezekiel and I hope to make it through this reach of the bible before Christmas :).

Prayer: God help us to place ourselves close the nourishing living water Your Spirit provides.

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A River that no One Could Cross

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.  As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. – Ezekiel 47:1‭-‬6

This passage just became one of my favorite passages so far on my float through the Bible. The water imagery is so rich and complex, like the wisdom of a rushing stream. The word picture it provides is a powerful metaphor for God’s amazing love for us. As I have been chewing on this passage I have been reminded of a song I have been hearing on the radio recently.  It is one of the most powerful songs for me this Christmas season. It is a song performed by Chris Tomlin’s band and Lauren Daigle and came out a couple years ago.  It is called simply “Noel”.  Here is a portion of the lyrics (you can watch it performed live here):

Love incarnate, love divine
Star and angels gave the sign
Bow to babe on bended knee
The Savior of humanity
Unto us a Child is born
He shall reign forevermore
Noel, Noel
Come and see what God has done
Noel, Noel
The story of amazing love!
The light of the world, given for us

Noel by Edmond Martin Cash, Matthew James Redman,  Christopher D. Tomlin and sung by Laura Daigle

The vision that Ezekiel is given here is one of a man walking beside a river and that man is being led into deeper and deeper water until finally the river become “a river that no one could cross”.  This is an amazing picture of our spiritual journey in pursuit of God. We cannot swim hard enough or fast enough to cross this river because the nature of this river, and our separation from God, is a spiritual one. We could take swimming lessons our entire life and we would still be unable to cross this river alone.

Fortunately for us we have a savior who is waiting to help us to cross this river if we ask for His help.  His arm has reached out across the vast river to lead us through the ever increasing depths to the undiscovered country where He dwells with all the others who have made this journey before us. God is both the reason we are separated from Him and our only means of reconciliation – the lion and the lamb.

As many of you probably noticed I am a big C.S. Lewis fan and I am a big fan of the Chronicles of Narnia.  There is a scene at the end of the Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Reepicheep, the cheeky mouse, is allowed to have his heart’s desire – to go to Aslan’s country with Aslan.  They are standing on the beach at the edge of world talking with a lamb which will soon become someone they know very well – Aslan the lion:

“There is a way into my country from all the worlds,” said the Lamb; but as he spoke, his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane. “Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?” “I shall be telling you all the time,” said Aslan. “But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder. – C.S. Lewis Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“The story of amazing love” is what this passage is really about.  On the banks of the Kebar River, buried here in the old testament, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ezekiel has been given a glimpse into the future of God’s gift to us, Himself. As Ezekiel was shown the figure being led into the ever deepening water the final question that God asks him is perhaps the most important question in all of creation, “Son of man, do you see this?” God asks each one of us this same question – “my child do you see this?”. “Come and see what God has done”.

Prayer: God thank You for the gift of this story of amazing love in this time of year when it is easy to lose sight of how much You love us. 

Posted in Christianity, Covenant, Ezekiel, Following God, God's Love for Us, Gospel, Love for the Lost, Prophecy, reconciliation, Redemption, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments