Madness

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“You will be driven mad by what you see.” Deuteronomy 28:34

After forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites were finally preparing to cross into the Promised Land. Prior to their crossing the Jordan River, the boundary of the Promised Land, God has some final words for Moses to relay to the people of Israel.

Moses wouldn’t be going into the Promised Land with the children of Israel; his temper and disobedience in the wilderness cost him that opportunity. Deuteronomy is, in a way, Moses’ last words–his last will and testament–to the Israelite nation that he’d led for the previous forty years. In this particular passage, God is communicating to the Israelites–through Moses–the blessings they’d receive for obeying Him and the Law once they cross over into the Promised Land; in return for their obedience, the Israelites would receive blessings of prosperity, protection, and peace.

However, in this same passage, God also communicates the equally important and pertinent message of what to expect should the Israelites disobey Him once they settle in the land that He gave to them. They would know no peace; they would know suffering, destruction, poverty, affliction, pain, hunger, slaughter, and a litany of other terrible repercussions. “Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes,” reads one punishment; “the Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness, and mental confusion,” reads another.  Ultimately, God says “you will be oppressed and crushed continually. You will be driven mad by what you see.” The suffering and oppression that would befall the Israelites as a result of any disobedience to God would be enough to drive them to the point of madness; to the brink of insanity.  Those who had remained faithful to God would be charged with bringing those who’d fallen away back to Him, and through that the curse would be lifted and the oppression ended.

For the followers of God today, we must ask ourselves this question: are we driven mad by the cruelty and inhumane happenings that occur in the world today? Does oppression and slaughter stir our hearts to call out to God, to want to help those in need? Or have we all become desensitized to the ways of this world; oblivious to the suffering and needs of those aren’t like us? In this fallen world, suffering reigns, sorrow is king, and oppression is a fact of life. But it need not be like that. The people of God need to trade in their passiveness for action; their complacency for compassion; their apathy for madness.

I cannot claim this quote, but it fits very nicely in this post–when considering all the pain, hardship, and suffering in the world, stop asking “where is God?” and begin asking “where are the people of God?”

Well, where are we? Have our hearts been stirred to madness? Because thats what it takes to stand up and attempt to make a difference.

Follow the Leader

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“Now determine in your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God.” 1 Chronicles 22:19.

Everyone should be familiar with the childhood game “follow the leader,” in which one person–the leader–does something and everyone else–the followers–has to do as well. It is a simple game, but very soon, the followers grow tired of doing only what the leader does, and eventually everyone desires their own turn at being the leader.

Much the same could be said of our spiritual lives.

King David is near the end of his reign, and he is preparing his son, Solomon, to follow in his place. David has been faithful to God throughout his reign, and in turn, God has blessed David. David is leaving Solomon with a bit of regal fatherly spiritual advice. He charges Solomon to make up his mind, right then and there, to commit to following after God. In order for Solomon to be a good leader of the people, he must first learn how to be a dedicated follower of God. David understood this, and he needs Solomon to understand it as well.

The heart and mind were seen as being interchangeable in this time, meaning that people viewed the heart as not only as being one’s source of emotion, but also one’s source of intellect and intelligence. One’s character, intelligence, and integrity was measured by their ability to keep their emotions in check. For instance, the ancient Hebrew word for fool and heart both start with the same letter, meaning the two words are related in some sense. David is commanding Solomon to follow after God, in spite of what his emotions might tell him to do and in spite of what his intelligence might lead him to do. Emotions are fleeting; intelligence will fail. Only God remains constant.

We, too, must make this same decision. Quite often our emotions and our intelligence get in the way and lead us astray. It is easy for us to lose focus of God, to feel that we can lead ourselves better than He. It is our human nature to want to be in charge of ourselves and to take orders from no one else. But we must daily submit ourselves to God. We must make the choice each day to give our hearts and minds to Him and to His service.

Temporary

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“For many dreams bring futility, and also many words. So, fear God.” Ecclesiastes 5:7.

These are the words of Solomon, King of Israel, son of David. Among Solomon’s numerous claims to fame is that the Bible refers to him as the wisest man to have ever lived. Shortly after he became king, God visited Solomon in a vision and promised to grant Solomon whatever it was he desired. Solomon asks for wisdom, and God grants this to him, along with fame and fortune. Tales of Solomon’s wisdom spread throughout the Near East, as did his fame, and Solomon soon becomes an international celebrity. People come from far and wide to ask him questions and to be granted an audience with him.

Fast forward a few years; Solomon is older, caught up in his celebrity, and his wisdom has made him jaded and bitter. Unlike his father, David,–who we saw yesterday thoroughly desired communication with God–Solomon has taken his eyes off of God. He has pursued fame and fortune, power, desire; his own dreams and aspirations. He has allowed his 700 wives and 300 concubines to bring their gods with them from their lands, and he allows the worship of these gods to take place within Israel. The son with so much potential and promise allowed himself to be corrupted, and now, when he pens these words, he is alone, nearing the end of his life, and his kingdom is falling apart.

The entire book of Ecclesiastes, though beautiful and poetic, has a visible theme of regret and bitterness that runs through it; Solomon is looking back over his life, lamenting the follies and errors of his youth. He understands the causes of his woe, and he is compelled to pass on these cautionary tales that someone of only his wisdom and experience could relay. It is sad, that after everything Solomon witnessed and experienced because of God, that he is reduced to such a forlorn and malcontent state at the end of his life.

The word “futility” appears constantly throughout Ecclesiastes, one could almost summarize the entire book with this one word. In English, futility often carries with it a meaning of hopelessness or meaninglessness; a sense of being lost and pointless. The same connotation is true in Hebrew, however, futility can also connote a sense of being temporary in Hebrew; a sense of being fleeting. When Solomon says “dreams bring futility, also many words,” he is saying several things: the dreams of this life are fleeting, things we say often are fleeting in nature and people seldom follow through with what they say. He is also saying that the pursuit of such fleeting and temporary dreams can drive a person to a sense of hopelessness, to the point of wanting to give up. When viewed in the context of his own life, we see what Solomon means– seeking only to serve ourselves and after our own fame and desires ultimately leads to a very bitter end. Yet, at the end of his life, an even in such a bitter and jaded state, Solomon still offers a piece of hopeful advice: fear God. Solomon now fully understands that the only thing that is not temporary in this life, the only thing that keeps us all from desperation and hopelessness, is God. Solomon is pleading with us to avoid his mistakes, to learn from what he did, and avoid his errors by fearing God and serving Him rather than seeking the fleetingly futile fame of this world.

Waiting

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“I wait for the Lord; I wait, and put my hope in His word. I wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning–more than the watchmen for the morning.” Psalm 130:5-6

Two years is a long time to take off from doing this blog–it stands as a testament as to how easily our daily habits can fall by the wayside, and then one thing leads to another, and so on and so forth. Life moves quickly and things get hectic and focuses shift.  I’ve wanted to start this up again, but it has taken until this point for me to feel ready and focused enough to begin tackling such a task.  That being said, let’s give this another shot.

Psalm 130 is another one of the numerous psalms penned by David. In addition to being a military hero, a shepherd, an accomplished musician, David was also a prolific writer, having penned numerous poems and songs during his life.  This psalm comes from a collection known as the “songs of ascents.” What this means is this: pilgrims would sing these particular psalms as they made their annual journeys to Jerusalem.

The Holy City, Jerusalem, has a unique geography: it is located in high in the mountains, and regardless of which direction one approaches it from, one must always go “up” to Jerusalem. It makes no difference whether you come to Jerusalem from North, South, East, or West, Jerusalem’s elevation is higher than that of the cities and towns surrounding it, so a pilgrim’s journey to Jerusalem required them to go up into the city. Due to this unique geographical oddity, the psalms that were reserved for singing on the journey to Jerusalem became associated with going up, or ascending, and the name “song of ascents” stuck.

Psalm 130 in particular reflects a unique and optimistic attitude of the pilgrim; he (we’ll use “he” since David wrote this psalm) is eagerly awaiting word from God. Elsewhere in David’s writings, he also references how deeply depressed he becomes when he feels distant from God, so it is easy to understand how important communication with the Almighty is for him. David’s emotions can always be traced directly to his spiritual state and his relationship with God.

David desires communication with his God, because he knows that everything he has is because of God. God is the source of his power, glory, success, safety, and most importantly, the source of his hope. God’s word, timeless, unchanging, and unfaltering, has sustained David through times of thick and thin–through the bear and lion attacks on his flock, through the battle with Goliath, through the war with Saul, through his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, through the war with his Son, Absalom, and until his death. In the good and in the bad, David knew his only hope was to trust in God.

In verse 6, David uses a very interesting illustration to communicate the anticipation with which he is waiting to communicate with God. He says that he “waits for the Lord more than the watchmen [waits] for the morning.” Consider this: the job of the night watchman, though vitally important, was not a job that many people desired to take. This is a job that requires one to work all night, patrol the city alone and in the dark, to keep a look out for fire, attacking armies, bandits and robbers, and to be exposed to all the dregs of society. It was just as true then as it is today that night exposes a completely different side of society. Darkness draws out things that cannot be exposed in the light. In spite of all this, the night watchman–night in and night out–dutifully goes to his post to do his job. He works throughout the dark night, keeping those who slumber safe, all the while  scanning the horizon for the first sign of light, the signal that another night’s work has been completed and he can now return to his own home. It is with this same anxiousness, this same hope, that David waits to hear from God. David understood, and we must as well, that when–and only when– God speaks to us, He brings light to our soul’s dark night.