God’s Word Withstands the Fire. Always.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah faced immense opposition, and in Jeremiah 36:20-25 is recorded an interesting story of King Jehoiakim’s attempts to destroy the prophet’s words, and by extension, God’s words.  The king was unable to get his hands on Jeremiah, whose allies helped him to hide, so the king takes a different approach:

So they went into the court to the king, having put the scroll in the chamber of Elishama the secretary, and they reported all the words to the king.  Then the king sent Jehudi to get the scroll, and he took it from the chamber of Elishama the secretary. And Jehudi read it to the king and all the officials who stood beside the king.  It was the ninth month, and the king was sitting in the winter house, and there was a fire burning in the fire pot before him.  As Jehudi read three or four columns, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the fire pot.  Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.  Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them.”

This wasn’t an impulsive, knee-jerk reaction to God’s word, but a deliberate, sustained act of rebellion.  This took time, and there’s almost a ceremony to it, as if daring God to stop him.  Many Christians today would be outraged if they witnessed something like this.  People in positions of authority disrespect God regularly, but imagine if the head of your country burned the Bible publicly on TV, and nobody stopped them, or even objected?  Sure, in modern times, people might object on their blog, on social media, or even on smaller TV and radio outlets, but in Jehoiakim’s example, nobody was able to challenge him. He “got away with it.”

Photo by raquel raclette on Unsplash

This brings up the question of: why does God allow things like this to happen?  I’ll suggest a question in response: Would it be a stronger testimony of God’s sovereignty if He had struck King Jehoiakim dead on the spot, or is it a stronger testimony that Jeremiah’s words still exist today all around the world?  If the second option is better, the next question is why do we sometimes feel such outrage and lash out (perhaps on our own blog or Facebook page) at such acts?  Do we trust God to deal with it, or do we worry that Jehoiakim is right – maybe God doesn’t care?

Part of the scroll Jehoiakim burned may have included these words of Jeremiah about the king himself: “With the burial of a donkey he shall be buried, dragged and dumped beyond the gates of Jerusalem.”[1] And “He shall have none to sit on the throne of David, and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat by day and the frost by night.[2]  Therefore God knew both that justice would be done to Jehoiakim, and also that his burning of the scroll had only symbolic and temporary effect.  In contrast, God’s justice and God’s word are eternally immutable and effective.  As Isaiah said: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”[3]

There’s also another question for us: if God had chosen in His sovereignty to redeem Jehoiakim, would we be angry like Jonah at the repentance of Nineveh[4], or would we praise God for His profound and measureless grace?  The same grace that brought Jeremiah’s words back from the futile fire pot of King Jehoiakim.  The grace that was purchased by Christ on the cross.

This word of God will stand as well: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:19-21

Do we believe it?


[1] Jeremiah 22:19
[2] Jeremiah 36:30
[3] Isaiah 40:8
[4] See my earlier, short post on Jonah’s anger.

Perils of Politics: A Quint of Quotes

Fellow travelers,

Here is another “Quint of Quotes” from my collection.  Five quotes somewhat related to each other, but not exactly in agreement.  I just began reading a book I got for Christmas, Faithful Presence by Bill Haslam, which opens by describing how polarized and angry America has become. In this environment, he asks the question: “do [Christians] just give up on the public square as a place to solve problems?”  These quotes aren’t an answer to that question, but I hope you find them interesting and thought-provoking.  Enjoy!

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” – Pericles, Greek statesman

“Only those will permit their patriotism to falsify history whose patriotism depends on history…A man who loves France for being military will palliate the army of 1870. But a man who loves France for being France will improve the army of 1870…The more transcendental is your patriotism, the more practical are your politics.” – G.K. Chesterton

“The less prudence with which others conduct their affairs, the greater the prudence with which we should conduct our own affairs” – Warren Buffett

The opening of the U.S. Constitution. Public Domain.

“I once carried on a brief correspondence with a man who objected to my interpretation of Romans 13. He said that all government was of the Devil and that Christians must not bow to the authority of ‘the powers that be.’ I pointed out to him that even his use of the United States mail service was an acceptance of governmental authority. The money he spent buying the paper and stamps also came from the ‘powers that be.’ For that matter, the very freedom he had to express himself was a right guaranteed by—the government!” – Warren Wiersbe

“When we are wrong, make us willing to change. And when we are right, make us easy to live with.” – Peter Marshal

Let Justice Roll: History for January 15

On January 15, 1929, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia.  A leader in the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950’s and 60’s, he is the only non-president to have a national holiday in his name, celebrated on the 3rd Monday of every January. During this holiday, many will cite positives and negatives from King’s life and legacy, and here I will focus on one, specific positive.

His father and maternal grandfather had both been pastors of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and he carried this religious heritage into his own studies and activism.  In pastor Tim Keller’s book “Making Sense of God” he writes that the strength of King’s arguments comes from his knowledge “that human rights have no power if they are simply created by a majority or imposed by judicial fiat. They have power only if they are really ‘there,’ existing on their own, dependent only on the fact that the wronged person before you making the claim against you is a human being.”[1]

King applied the teaching that “God created man in His own image” from Genesis 1:26-27 to argue that this image gives every person: “a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him a dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.”[2]

A mighty stream. Photo by Daniel J. Schwarz on Unsplash

In one of my favorite quotes from King, he cites the American institutions of democracy and its founding documents, but knows that even these must be rooted in religious truth to be effective: “One day the South will know that when these dis­in­her­ited chil­dren of God sat down at lunch coun­ters, they were in re­al­ity stand­ing up for what is best in the Amer­i­can dream and for the most sa­cred val­ues in our Ju­deo-Chris­t­ian her­itage, thereby bring­ing our na­tion back to those great wells of democ­racy which were dug deep by the found­ing fa­thers in their for­mu­la­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion and the De­c­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.”[3]

Keller continues in his chapter titled “A Justice That Does Not Create Oppressors” that “Martin Luther King Jr. did not ask white America to make African Americans free to pursue rational self-interest, their own individual definitions of a fulfilling life. Rather, quoting Amos 5:24, he called them to not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’[4]  God provides, and demands, more than “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

While His justice and righteousness will only be made fully manifest in eternity, when we bring a bit of it into this world, we provide something available no other way to our neighbors, communities and beyond.  We should not be satisfied with anything less.


[1] Keller, Timothy.  Making Sense of God (2016).  P. 199.
[2] From a sermon King preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia on July 4, 1965.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.
[3] From “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, dated April 16, 1963.
[4] From King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC on August 28, 1963.  Cited in Making Sense of God, P. 199.

Jesus was Born to Overthrow King Herod, but How?

The story of Herod and the three wise men is familiar to most who celebrate Christmas.  After the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the wise men came looking for Him, having seen a star they believed signaled His coming.  Arriving in Jerusalem, they asked “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.[1]  Word of this search made it to Herod, the then-current king of that region under Rome’s authority, and his first instinct was to eliminate what he saw as a threat to his own power.  In Herod’s eyes, only he was king of the Jews.

Herod came up with a simple plan: to use the wise men to help him find this threat.  “And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.’”[2]  However, the wise men were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went home after visiting Jesus.  “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.”[3]

Herod believed so strongly in the necessity of the power of Rome and of his place in it that he was willing to commit mass murder.  If he couldn’t find the one child he wanted, he’d just kill them all.  He feared Jesus (or His followers) would overthrow him as king, and he was right but in the wrong sense.  Jesus would overthrow Rome.  He was born to overthrow every earthly kingdom – that is inevitable.

Much of Rome is already in ruins. Photo by Giu Vicente on Unsplash

Isaiah 40:17 proclaims that “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.”  The word “emptiness” here is the Hebrew “bohu,” part of the phrase “tohu va’bohu” translated as “without form and void” in Genesis 1:2.  This phrase represents empty things with no eternal value or purpose.  So, while Isaiah doesn’t use the whole phrase from Genesis, he uses “less than” for emphasis instead.  When compared to God’s eternal purposes, all that every nation has ever devised and achieved is less than useless.  God has nothing to learn from our political and economic visions – He transcends them all.  No nation can or will accomplish what God has accomplished and will accomplish.

Therefore, Jesus’ other mission was to overthrow Herod’s dominion over Herod.  But Herod was determined to resist.  His heart was so hard that he preferred to hang on to a government willing to commit mass murder to preserve its own self-centered ways.  He thought he could preserve the façade of “Pax Romana,” the idea that worldly government can solve all of our problems, even while he, as an agent of Rome, was killing innocent children.  Herod saw it as in his own best interest, and in the interest of Rome, but this is one of many examples of “a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”[4]

Jesus can overcome death only by overthrowing our views of our own “best interest” and what “seems right.”  He was not born and did not die and rise again just to overthrow Rome, but He came so we would have a way to overthrow ourselves and death itself.  Jesus will establish the only government that will matter in eternity: His Kingdom.  The soul of Herod, and of all of us, will outlive every society that ever existed, and ever will, on this earth.  The nations are all “accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.”  While Herod could find hope in Jesus if he wanted to, Rome itself never had any hope.

Therefore, the question Jesus asks all people is: Will we let Jesus overthrow us or will we, like Herod, go to great lengths to resist Jesus and try to preserve a world that is doomed to fail?

Isaiah 9:6, recently the focus of my Christmas series on 4 names describing Jesus, also says “and the government shall be upon his shoulder.”  His Kingdom will be the only government we need, and He alone is uniquely qualified to establish and rule it.

For to us a child is born,
            to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
            and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
            Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”


[1] Matthew 2:2
[2] Matthew 2:8
[3] Matthew 2:16
[4] Proverbs 14:12, 16:25

Politics Didn’t Keep King David Up at Night

In the United States, we just had midterm elections, those falling between the presidential elections that happen every 4 years.  The end result of government divided between Democrats and Republicans likely has many wishing their preferred side had more power.  This post is a slightly edited version of one from this April, when anxiety about these elections began to heat up.  While in Psalm 2, God declares “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill,” where He laughs at the kings and rulers of the world who stand against Him, that declaration may be harder to take when events don’t appear to go our way.  Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” follows, and I don’t think it’s an accident because it records God’s king at the time, David, lamenting about being chased from power by his own son.  The story may provide comfort when things don’t look to be going God’s way here on earth.

Absalom’s Rebellion
The story of King David in the Bible is a very condensed version of his life but does not shy away from David’s serious failures and flaws.  The story of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba is not swept under the rug, and eventually, Absalom’s rebellion against his father David was justified in his mind by those flaws.  Absalom harbored resentment for years after David’s lack of punishment for Absalom’s brother Amnon, who raped his sister Tamar.  One can imagine Absalom thinking about his father: “You’re the king of Israel, so why didn’t you protect Tamar, or at least punish Amnon?  If my sister and I don’t get justice, you don’t deserve to be king!”

David, on the other hand, was quite aware of the limits of being king.  In Psalm 131:1, David wrote:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
            my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
            too great and too marvelous for me.

Even while writing as divinely selected king of Israel, David knew many things were “too great and too marvelous” even for him.  Instead, David focused his heart on the God-given task before him, which did not include achieving perfection in this world.  That task belonged elsewhere.  Later, Psalm 131 was included in the Psalms (or Songs) of Ascent[1], which served as a liturgy for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals.  In those Psalms are reminders of God’s provision for things the world can’t provide, including salvation for our souls and a way to perfect righteousness.  The pilgrims did not go to Jerusalem to worship the earthly king, but to encounter God, and including Psalm 131 in that liturgy would always be a reminder that our worldly aims should always be rooted in humility.

When Absalom raised several hundred supporters and entered Jerusalem to violently overthrow his father David, “a messenger came to David, saying, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.’ Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, ‘Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.’”  (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

David’s Response
After surrendering the throne and fleeing, David wrote Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” which says in full:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
            Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
            “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
            my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
            and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
            I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
            who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O LORD!
            Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
            you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
            your blessing be on your people! Selah”

Knowing the background of this Psalm and its placement after Psalm 2 make it far more interesting.  David had suffered a massive political defeat, being humiliated and tossed out of Jerusalem by his own son.  Instead of despairing, he turned to God for his salvation because he knew even the king of Israel could not save the people.  He was only a temporary and provincial authority.  Even though God had promised David the throne, God was able to save David, and Israel, without David on the throne.  With the murderous and vengeful Absalom on the throne, was God defeated?  No, instead we have this Psalm as a reminder of God’s presence and provision of salvation in spite of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

David, having cultivated over years an awareness of his own limitations as king of Israel, and the limitless power of God, “lay down and slept,” then “woke again, for the LORD sustained me.”  Surrounded by foes and removed from his throne, David slept soundly!  In contrast, Absalom broods upon every imperfection, plotting ways to force justice as he sees it on others, even if he must dishonor God.  You could say he is driven by a belief in a government that can solve all of our problems and shouldn’t rest until it does.

Conclusion
Jesus was not our midterm ballots, but flawed candidates of many types were.  Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.  A lesson from Psalm 3 is that we should be able to sleep at night in good conscience because no matter what the world looks like, God says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6) even when king David was on the run for his life.

The success of God’s plan does not rely on our political success. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” and He deserves our vote every time.


[1] I’m currently writing about those Psalms in a series, which began here.