Tag Archives: Box

Unexpected Twists of Plot

“But I know where you are
    and when you come and go
    and how you rage against me.
Because you rage against me
    and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
    by the way you came.
Isaiah 37:28-29 (NIV)

Things did not look hopeful for the residents of Jerusalem. The city was under siege by the Assyrians. The trash-talking parley of the Assyrian field commander had instilled fear in the hearts of the men on the walls, standing in defense of the city. Inside Jerusalem’s temple courts the king of Judah, Hezekiah, held conference. The ancient prophet Isaiah was there. Once again, we have a front row seat, and eye-witness account of history.

There are two things I find fascinating about the events described in today’s chapter.

First, Isaiah repeats an earlier prophetic message: The Assyrians had been acting as agents of God. Even the field commander in yesterday’s chapter claimed that they were acting at the behest of Israel’s God:

“‘Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the Lord? The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.'”

One of the lessons that I have learned along my journey through God’s great story is that things aren’t always as cut and dried, black and white, or simple as some would like it to be. God using the “bad guys” as His agents? Really?!

This isn’t the only place in the Great Story in which this happens. The subsequent Babylonian empire would also be prophetically tapped as God’s agents. Reading the story of Daniel, we find that God took keen and special interest in Nebuchadnezzar, the evil king of Babylon. In the story of Israel’s greatest King, David, God seemingly pulls his support of the sitting King (Saul) and sends the anointed King David as a mercenary to fight for Israel’s enemies.

The second thing that strikes me in today’s chapter is the eucatastrophic deliverance of Jerusalem. Isaiah tells King Hezekiah that the Assyrians had been acting as agent’s of God, but now the jig was up and God was going to deliver Jerusalem from Assyria’s hands. At the moment when things seemed darkest for the people of Jerusalem, hope was going to miraculously break.

The next morning when light dawns, the Assyrian army were all laying dead.

The Assyrians had actually divided their army to conquer two different cities. King Sennacherib was laying siege to Lachish while his field commander was laying siege to Jerusalem. Isaiah records that when Sennacherib hears of the mysterious death of his forces at Jerusalem he withdraws from the region and heads home.

This morning I’m once again reminded not to place God in a box. I don’t completely understand why the Author of Life uses certain characters such as Nebuchadnezzar and Sennacherib in the plot line of the Great Story. I don’t understand why God miraculously delivers Jerusalem from Assyria and then allows Babylon to destroy it. It reminds me, however, to hold on loosely in judgement of current events on a grand scale. The Great Story is often a thriller with unexpected plot twists. Just ask the Assyrian field commander.

God’s Nude, Performance Art Prophet

…at that time the Lord spoke through Isaiah son of Amoz. He said to him, “Take off the sackcloth from your body and the sandals from your feet.” And he did so, going around stripped and barefoot.
Isaiah 20:2 (NIV)

I am taking a step back this morning and thinking long and hard on this little fact from this morning’s rather short chapter: God told Isaiah to strip and walk around naked as a living word picture and performance art piece that foretold what the Egyptians were going to experience under Assyrian captivity.

I heard the voices of many an uptight grandmother, legalistic preacher, and fundamentalist friend explaining  that something must surely be lost in translation and God would never ask His servant to do something so shameful and improper. “Perhaps Isaiah just stripped down to his boxers or something,” I hear the voices say.

Yet just the next verse God makes the message very clear:

“so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Cushite exiles, young and old, with buttocks bared—to Egypt’s shame.” Isaiah 20:4 [emphasis added]

Bare-assed shame was the crux of the message. God was not pulling any punches.

This morning I’m thinking about the ways I let social and societal mores mold the way I see God. The further I get in my life journey the more I’m aware that I sometimes like to put God in the box of my own design, constrained by my own social, cultural, political, and religious preconceptions. The more willing I am to let God out of my own mental and spiritual box, the more deep and full my understanding and appreciation of God becomes, and the more transformative that knowledge becomes in my own life.

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Chapter-a-Day John 17

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I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. John 17:15 (NLT)

I’ve never completely understood those who choose a cloistered existence, and at times it creates conflict within me. Our culture and our resources have afforded those who follow Jesus the opportunity to hide ourselves and our families away in a box labeled “Christian.” We live in Christian community, read Christian books from Christian publishers and listen to Christian music from Christian record labels. We send our kids to Christian schools in their Christian clothing only to return home to watch Christian programming on television. We go to Christian speakers at Christian conferences and sip lattes from the Christian coffee house afterwards. Inside our box we are safe and insulated. We are comfortable and cozy.

And, I’m afraid we kid ourselves into thinking we are “preserving the faith” while we become increasingly impotent and irrelevant to a world that desperately needs a glimmer of Light.

From the time I first started reading Jesus’ words, this verse from today’s chapter has always seared itself on my heart and brain. As Jesus prays for the twelve and for all those who would follow after, He prays specifically that Father God would not cloister us in a little box. His intention was that we take Light and Life on our journey into a world fraught with dangers, toils, and snares. In the midst of a hostile environment we will need safety and protection. That was Jesus prayer.

Chapter-a-Day Numbers 22

Jim Broadbent as the adult Digory Kirke in The...
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The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your trusty donkey on whom you’ve ridden for years right up until now? Have I ever done anything like this to you before? Have I?” Numbers 22:30 (MSG)

C.S. Lewis’ classic tale, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, has always been one of my favorites. There is a scene early in the story when Lucy’s elder siblings, Peter and Susan, are convinced that their sister is lying to them about her mysterious trips through the wardrobe into the magical land of Narnia. At their wit’s end, they have a conversation with the Professor about their sister’s odd behavior. To their amazement, he decides that their sister is telling the truth.

“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious she isn’t mad. For the moment then, and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

The children come to learn that the Professor was correct. They refused to accept their sister’s story because it didn’t fit inside their comfortable definition of reality.

Along the journey, I’ve come to realize that we often place God in a box in our minds. It’s a neat little box. It’s dimensions are those which we define based on our comfort level and our experience in the journey. The problem is that an infinite, omniscient and omnipotent God never seems to consistently fit neatly inside a box we create in our finite minds and limited experience.

In today’s chapter, we learn that God had made himself known to a man named Balaam. Balaam was not one of “God’s people.” He was not one of the Israelites coming up out of Egypt. Nevertheless, it is clear that God had revealed Himself to Balaam and used Balaam (and Balaam’s donkey) to accomplish His purpose. 

Balaam stands as a reminder to me that God can work in and through whomever He wishes in order to accomplish His purpose. The way God works, and those through whom He chooses to accomplish His will, do not always fit within my comfortable definition. Like Susan and Peter, I am constantly finding that my faith and wonder must expand as God reveals Himself to be and to act in ways that are exceeding, abundantly beyond all that I can think or imagine.

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