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.

Posted in Following God, God's Love for Us, Habakkuk, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Draw Water for the Siege

Rainwater Catchment at the citadel in Haiti

Draw water for the siege, strengthen your defenses! Work the clay, tread the mortar, repair the brickwork! There the fire will consume you; the sword will cut you down— they will devour you like a swarm of locusts. Multiply like grasshoppers, multiply like locusts! You have increased the number of your merchants till they are more numerous than the stars in the sky, but like locusts they strip the land and then fly away. – Nahum 3:14‭-‬16

For those in the United States, Happy 4th of July! This is the last water-related passage in the book of Nahum. It is an interesting book, but I confess it was not an exhilarating whitewater stretch of “the river“.

I recently returned from Haiti where I was leading a group of intrepid students on a 4-week study abroad program. One of my favorite stops on our tour was at a fort called the Citadel built by Haitians shortly after their revolution. In 1804 the former slaves overthrew the French colonialists to emerge from the shackles of slavery and govern themselves. The road to self-governance has been a rocky road with many potholes and detours for Haiti, but the Citadel is an awe-inspiring example of what the people of Haiti could do when they worked with a common purpose toward a shared goal.

It is fitting that this post should be occurring on the day the United States celebrates its independence day. I think in many ways the slave revolt in Haiti was inspired by our revolution. It is a shame we did not embrace their revolution because of our own Faustian bargain with forced labor (slavery), but I digress…back to the passage and the citadel.

Near the top of the citadel is an ingenuous rain water catchment system that fed into water storage systems for the fort so that the people in the fort could have water even during a prolonged siege. That is what this passage is talking about, being prepared for a lengthy siege.

As I have pondered this passage it occurs to me that if one thinks of this passage as a metaphysical metaphor there may be an interesting hidden well here. This may be a stretch but bear with me.  In many ways the earthly existence for our souls is like a lengthy spiritual siege. Our water source for this siege is supposed to be God, the great cistern. Unfortunately it is easy to become distracted by the demands of our physical world and “Work the clay, tread the mortar, repair the brickwork!” for our defenses rather than tend to the real defenses that are fundamentally spiritual.

This blog has helped me to remember this spiritual dimension to my otherwise secular life. It is so easy to become distracted by the daily demands of living. I have been at this journey for just over four years since my first post on June 22, 2014.  There have been blocks of time off the water and  I am still in the old testament, but the stretch of the braided river that is the new testament is rapidly approaching.  I am excited to see what God has to teach me about how the rich water imagery in the old testament serves as a “tributary” for the new testament.

Prayer: God help me to recognize the need for spiritual preparation and defenses and invest time and energy preparing for spiritual siege.

Posted in Discernment, Following God, Nahum, The Earthly Realm, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nakedness

“I am against you,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. All who see you will flee from you and say, ‘Nineveh is in ruins—who will mourn for her?’ Where can I find anyone to comfort you?” Are you better than Thebes, situated on the Nile, with water around her? The river was her defense, the waters her wall. Cush and Egypt were her boundless strength; Put and Libya were among her allies. Yet she was taken captive and went into exile. Her infants were dashed to pieces at every street corner. Lots were cast for her nobles, and all her great men were put in chains. You too will become drunk; you will go into hiding and seek refuge from the enemy. – Nahum 3:5-‬11

God is painting a pretty bleak picture of Nineveh for the people of Israel to see, “I will lift your skirts over your face. I will show the nations your nakedness and the kingdoms your shame. I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle”. The “you” here is Nineveh and God is trying to get their attention and the attention of the people of Israel. He certainly got my attention.

God compares Nineveh to another city of the region, Thebes on the Nile River. I had to do a little research into this city so I could make sense of the analogy God is using. Apparently Thebes was the capitol of ancient Egypt near the present day city of Luxor, Egypt. The city spanned the Nile just like Nineveh spanned the Tigris River. This city was the seat of Egyptian power and wealth and is the location of the Valley of the Kings where the tomb of Tutankhamen was found.

Thebes was wealthy, successful, and the seat of earthly power for Egypt.  One of the most powerful nation’s at the time, but it was apparently conquered and dethroned. God is saying that Nineveh will have the same fate and by implication so will Israel. What God is highlighting here is the true value and worth of earthly treasures and power. By most earthly measures the pharaohs were rich, powerful, and successful. From God’s perspective, in the eternal scheme of things, they were nothing more than naked captives in exile from their true home, the “undiscovered country” where God dwells.

It is interesting that God makes a point of mentioning that both these cities used the river as a defense, “the waters her wall.” It seems like God is reminding the people He is mightier than these seemingly mighty rivers, the Tigris and the Nile. He is the only real and lasting refuge, the One River.  Paradoxically He is also the means of crossing the seemingly impassible river than divides this land of Oblivion from the undiscovered country.

I think God’s main point here is that He is the only unbeatable wall behind which we are “safe”. I think this is ultimately because the real dangers we face are not physical. Affecting not just our infants, nobles, and great men, but our very souls. These great and powerful cities will fall because they have placed their trust in themselves and their treasures rather than God. They are focused on what can be seen and touched rather than being seen and touched by God by a God who sees them.

Prayer: God thank You for being our refuge and helping us see and be seen by You.

Posted in Discernment, Following God, God's Love for Us, Love for the Lost, Nahum, Prophecy, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Draining Away

The chariots storm through the streets, rushing back and forth through the squares. They look like flaming torches; they dart about like lightning. Nineveh summons her picked troops, yet they stumble on their way. They dash to the city wall; the protective shield is put in place. The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses. It is decreed that Nineveh be exiled and carried away. Her female slaves moan like doves and beat on their breasts. Nineveh is like a pool whose water is draining away. “Stop! Stop!” they cry, but no one turns back. Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold! The supply is endless, the wealth from all its treasures! She is pillaged, plundered, stripped! Hearts melt, knees give way, bodies tremble, every face grows pale. – Nahum 2: 4‭-‬10

The prophecy concerning Ninevah continues in this passage and it is not a pretty picture.  Chariots are rushing about the streets presumably killing and maiming people.  Ninevah calls up the troops to defend the city, but apparently they are unsuccessful.

Ninevah was located right on the Tigris River near the present-day city of Mosul. The ancient city of Ninevah was a “gated community” with a wall and gates that restricted access to the city. This must have been somewhat challenging when it came to the river, as the Tigris River apparently flowed right through the city. How do you put a gate on a large river?

I did a little research into the Tigris River as I was curious how big this river is and what sort of flow one could expect.  The U.S.G.S has a great publication for the curious here. The maximum flow for the Tigris River near Mosul is about 3,500 cubic meters per second which is equivalent to about 123,000 cubic feet per second.  This is roughly the equivalent to about 1 million gallons per second.  That is a lot of water to try to pass through a city gate. It occurs to me that a siege being directed along a river is not something that I remember hearing much about in my history education.  I suppose if the river is large enough it can serve as a barrier that would be difficult to cross with a large army and equipment.

Apparently in this passage the river gate was a weak point, “The river gates are thrown open and the palace collapses.”  The power and privilege that the people of Nineveh have enjoyed is dissipating, “like a pool whose water is draining away.”  God is reminding the people of Nineveh that He is God and they are not.

The take home lesson for me here is that all our earthly treasures can be taken away at any time so there is not much point serving them instead of God. All earthly things, including our very lives, will someday “drain away” like water and there will be little left except that which we have invested in our eternal souls and our relationship to the Great Cistern, God.

Prayer: God help us to prioritize eternal things over ephemeral things.

Posted in Death and Dying, Following God, Nahum, The Earthly Realm, The Spiritual Realm, wealth | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Overwhelming Flood

The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness. Whatever they plot against the Lord he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time. They will be entangled among thorns and drunk from their wine; they will be consumed like dry stubble. From you, Nineveh, has one come forth who plots evil against the Lord and devises wicked plans. This is what the Lord says: “Although they have allies and are numerous, they will be destroyed and pass away. Although I have afflicted you, Judah, I will afflict you no more. Now I will break their yoke from your neck and tear your shackles away.” – Nahum 1:7‭-‬13

Here is the “rest of the story” for the previous passage in Nahum. It answers a lingering question I had from that passage.  The question I had was whether the murky metaphor about God and dust was some sort of prophetic reference to the the coming of Jesus.  This passage would suggest the answer is yes.

The passage begins with a reassuring statement that “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble.”  This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the Chronicles of Narnia when Mr. Beaver describes Aslan:

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

So God is also good, but He is not necessary “safe” from an earthly perspective. God “cares for those who trust in him”, but there are apparently consequences for choosing not to trust God, “with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh”.  So although God stands ready to receive those who are willing to trust Him there is clearly judgement for those who choose to be free of God. The passage make it clear that God is willing to go to great lengths to reach out to those willing to take His hand, “he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.”  This is basically what Jesus did, He pursued His foes (hopefully our foes as well) into the darkness on our behalf.

Those who choose a way apart from God have a pretty bleak future to look forward to: “They will be entangled among thorns and drunk from their wine; they will be consumed like dry stubble”. This imagery of entanglement reminds me of a passage from the Psalms (Psalm 124:1-8) that describes our earthly condition as being like “fowler’s snare”.  Interestingly, the passage in the psalms also refers to a flood, “the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away.”

In this passage, like the one in the Psalms, God makes it clear that the “snare has been broken“.  There is no flood great enough or large enough to separate us from God if we trust in Him.  God is the ultimate “life preserver” when we encounter turbulent water and the river that no one can cross.  The promised rescue may not look like what we are expecting, just like Jesus did not fit the mold that the people of Israel had prepared for Him when he came to set us free.

Prayer: Thank You God for standing ready to rescue us from all floods, snares, and thickets in which we find ourselves.

Posted in Discernment, Following God, Forgiveness, Free Will, God's Love for Us, Nahum, Prophecy, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Whirlwind and the Storm

A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on his foes and vents his wrath against his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. – Nahum 1:1‭-‬6

Welcome to the book of Nahum!  I confess this is not a book I have spent much time reading before so I am looking forward to new discoveries in this reach of “the river”.  Apparently Nahum means “comforter” in Hebrew and he is one of the “minor prophets” speaking to the people of Israel in this transition period before the coming of Jesus.

This passage starts with a reference to Ninevah of Jonah fame.  Apparently this prophecy was directed at them.  The God of the beginning of this passage is very much the “Mad Max” God of the old testament, full of vengeance and wrath.  The passage then throws out some interesting and confusing metaphors to describe the “way of God”. “His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet”.  The first part I get, God is present in powerful storms and mighty winds. The second part seems like a murky metaphor, how can clouds be dust?  First the one I understand…

On my last night in Haiti we were having dinner in a Petionville and a really amazing thunderstorm blew in on our way to the restaurant.  The rain was literally pouring off of the bus in a mighty river.  The streets became rivers and it seems like the rain would never stop. We were greeted at the restaurant by a man with a large umbrella intended to be used as a sun shade, it was not really waterproof. He proceeded to usher groups of 4-5 people at a time beneath this large umbrella. You can imagine it is not so easy to have 5 people walking together beneath an umbrella. In the end I am pretty sure everyone got about as wet as if they had just made a run for it, which is what I decided to do. Now back to the murky metaphor.

Clouds have held very complex meaning in my float so far in the bible.  God himself has appeared in the temple as a cloud. The idea of a Godly condensate is somewhat central to the way the people of Israel at this time seem to be thinking about God, the cloud is separated and high above them, So what does it mean that the cloud are the “dust of his feet”.  This would seem to be describing some sort of reference to the merging of two worlds, the physical (the dust), and the spiritual (the clouds).  I confess I am still confused about the meaning here.  Perhaps the point is being made that God ultimately rules both worlds, the physical and the spiritual.

This seems to be borne out by the subsequent sentences about God parting “the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry.”  I wonder if this is part of a transition from the physical God of Moses that showed up in tangible ways to part the waters of the Red Sea and the spiritual Godly Condensate to come in the form of Jesus.  Perhaps this preparation was necessary to allow the people to receive this very different God-Man Jesus.  I do not know.  This passage is “funny water” to be sure.

Prayer: God the images here of a merging of two worlds is both interesting and confusing.  Help me to understand the words you shared through the prophet Nahum.

Posted in Following God, Jesus, Nahum, Prophecy, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment