Here We Go Again…

What You’ve Missed…
* God calls Jerusalem a useless vine.
* God calls Jerusalem an adulterous wife.
* God calls Jerusalem his beautiful daughter.  But then calls her a prostitute.  (In fact, God goes into great detail mentioning that this prostitute daughter actually lusts after men who, “have genitals like that of a donkey” completely one-upping Sir Mix-a-Lot’s I Like Big Butts.
* God says He is going to pour out his fury on Israel for her sins.
* Oh yeah, and God says He’s going to pour out judgment on all the false prophets.
* Apparently God is a tad angry these days.
(Credit for the above image goes to memegenerator.net)

Day 236
Daily Reading: Jeremiah 32-33, Ezekiel 26

To give you an idea of the kinds of things God is saying to His people at this point, allow me to let the Bible speak for itself.

“Son of man, turn and face Jerusalem and prophesy against Israel and her sanctuaries.  Tell her, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am your enemy, O Israel, and I am about to unsheath my sword to destroy your people – the righteous and the wicked alike.  Yes, I will cut off both the righteous and the wicked!  I will draw my sword against everyone in the land from south to north.  Everyone in the world will know I am the LORD.  My sword is in my hand, and it will not return to its sheath until its works is finished.’”  (Ezekiel 21:1-5)

First of all…that is one of the most bad ass, pre-battle speeches ever.  We’re passed Braveheart at this point.  This up there with the stuff Samuel L. Jackson is quoting in Pulp Fiction.  Clearly God knows how to put the fear of God in people.

Second of all…here we go again.  God is calling for the destruction of His own people.  A few posts ago we saw God say He would have mercy on His people.  So, what about now?

Well…it’s kind of the same deal.  But not.  In Jeremiah, God says He will allow Jerusalem to indeed fall completely into Babylon’s evil clutches (though, honestly, I thought this had already happened…so I’m kind of confused), and they will suffer as a result of their sinful behavior.  But then He says this,

“The LORD gave another message to Jeremiah.  He said, ‘Have you heard what people are saying – ‘The LORD chose Judah and Israel and then abandoned them!’…But this is what the LORD says: I would no more reject my people than I would change my laws that govern night and day, earth and sky.  I will never abandon the descendants of Jacob or David, my servant, or change the plan that David’s descendants will rule the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Instead, I will restore them to their land and have mercy on them.”  (Jeremiah 33:23-26)

It seems that God is in fact going to allow the majority of His people to be destroyed through war and famine as He’s promised, but also, that he promises to restore them after it’s all over.  In fact, God also says,

“Now I want to say something more about [Jerusalem].  You have been saying, ‘It will fall to the king of Babylon through war, famine and disease.’  But this is what the LORD, the God of Israel says: I will certainly bring my people back again from all the countries where I will scatter them in my fury.  I will bring them back to this very city and let them live in peace and safety.”  (Jeremiah 32:36-37)

And this,

“This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: This land – though it is now desolate and has no people and animals – will once more have pastures where shepherds can lead their flocks…The day will come, says the LORD, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them.”  (Jeremiah 33:12-14)

So, I guess God isn’t really going back on His word here.  He’s just saying, “Look, I’m unhappy and things are going to seriously suck for awhile.  I promise.  But then, I’m going to make it awesome again.  Really awesome.  I promise.  Stick with me.”

Weird, but okay.  I can rally around that kind of upfront honesty, seasoned with hope for the future.  (Maybe our presidential candidates should get God on their speech writing teams.  Or maybe they should just start telling the truth.  I’m actually not sure which is more likely.)
Honestly though, I’m still a little confused about whether Jerusalem has actually been captured yet or not.  And that whole “men hung like donkeys” thing is still kind of messing me up.

Holy Crap

What You’ve Missed…
* Not much.
* The Babylonians capture Israel and force the rich Israelites to move to Babylon as captives.  Everyone else was allowed to hang around and starve and be poor and stuff.
* A description of heavenly beings that sound more like aliens than angels.  If people knew angels in heaven really looked like this, Angels in the Outfield would’ve been the scariest horror movie ever made.

 

Days 228 and 229
Daily Readings: Ezekiel 3-9, Jeremiah 27-28

What I have come across in the past two days of reading is so bizarre, I actually asked a co-worker to cover for me tonight so I could write this post.  Let me just say I find myself reading the book of Ezekiel for the first time, and it is EFFING WEIRD.

It starts off with a crazy vision of freaky looking flying things covered in eyes, with four different faces, hands, and wings (these are heavenly, holy beings by the way), flying all around the cosmos and cruising around on crazy monster-truck tires.  (No, really…that’s an accurate description.)  Alright, is this the inspired word of God, or someone writing about the craziest drug trip of their life?  Think that’s a ridiculous question?  Then clearly, you haven’t read it for yourself.  I had to double check and make sure I wasn’t trippin’ after I finished reading.

My point?  Mitch Albom’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven won’t prepare you for the freakshow that may actually be awaiting you when you arrive.

Moving on.

God starts speaking to Ezekiel (who is part of the group that has been exiled to Babylon) and I guess God is tired of just trying to talk to his people.  So He has Ezekiel put on a few demonstrations.

Demonstration 1:
God has Ezekiel build a diorama of the city of Jerusalem under attack, and has him act out the attack, in order to show Jerusalem how intense the fighting will be with Babylon.  Pause.  Imagine a man out in a public area close to your house, with a giant ping-pong table size model of the city, jumping around, pretending like there’s a war going on (complete with mouth made sound effects like explosions and gun fire, screaming and wailing, etc.)  And then imagine this guy saying, “God says war is coming!  Listen to me!”

Then God takes it up a notch.

“Son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a razor to shave your head and beard.  Place a third of your hair at the center of your map.  After acting out the siege, burn it there.  Scatter another third across the map and chop it with a sword.  Scatter the last third to the wind…”  (Ezekiel 5:1-3)

So now imagine our crazy ping-pong table friend cutting off his hair (with a sword), lighting it on fire and chopping it up saying, “God says war is coming.  You need to start obeying God.  Listen to me!”

Uh, YOU listen to ME weirdo.  You’re creepin’ us out, alright?  So please meet with all your personalities and get them all to agree that you need help.  Lots of it.  The kind offered in a padded room, wearing a straight-jacket, while heavily sedated.

This…this is the guy God uses to speak to His people.  Clearly God never took any public speaking or marketing courses.  (God, I know I slept through most of college, but they still gave me a communications degree…so, just let me know if you need some pointers.  Which, uh, I think you might.)

Demonstration 2:
“Now lie on your left side and place the sins of Israel on yourself…I am requiring you to bear Israel’s sins for 390 days – one day for each year of their sin.  After that, turn over and lie on your right side for 40 days – one day for each year of Judah’s sin.  Meanwhile, keep staring at the siege of Jerusalem (the diorama).  Lie there…and prophesy her destruction.  I will tie you up with ropes so you won’t be able to turn from side to side until the days of your siege have been completed.”  (Ezekiel 4:4-7)

So now our crazy friend is laying down, on his left side by his public ping-pong diorama, for over a year.  I can’t sit still for 10 minutes.  Ezekiel just lays there for over a year?  And the whole time he’s continually telling everyone who walks by they’re going to be destroyed?

This reminds me of all those uber weird people who permanently hang around the White House with all their uber weird displays, full of uber weird pictures of deformed kids and victims of war and stuff, creeping out all the tourists, looking all homeless and cracked out.  This is what Ezekiel was like.  He was one of those people.  God told him to do it.  And when I think about it…I don’t like it.  Those people give me the jibbly-jibblies.  I don’t want them as the heroes of my Bible.

But apparently at this point in history God wasn’t interested in what I wanted.

Demonstration 3:
“Now go and gather some [ingredients] and mix them together…Use them to make bread for yourself during the 390 days…While all the people are watching, bake it over a fire using dried human dung as fuel and then eat the bread…This is how Israel will eat defiled bread in the Gentile lands to which I will banish them!”  (Ezekiel 4:9-13)

Uhhhhhhhhhh, what?  So, not only is Ezekiel camped out in public on his side for a year, telling everyone they’re going to die, but he has to eat bread cooked over crap?  Really God?  This is the way you want to get your point across?  Adding ANOTHER layer of ridiculous on top of a pretty solid ridiculous foundation?  That’s your plan?  AND you’re going to make this poor guy eat poop bread?

How is ANYONE supposed to heed Ezekiel’s warnings?  You’re setting him up for failure.  People are just going to point and laugh at the guy.  The only reasonable conclusion anyone watching him could come to is that the dude has completely lost it.  People are going to avoid him, spit on him, and probably throw some nasty crap at him (which actually helps him make more delicious poop bread, really).  Why God?  Why be so bizarre?  It’s…well…off-putting.  I know you’re trying to make a point, but, a bald headed freak who eats poop bread while telling everyone they’re going to die in a horrible war?  That seems like the worst way to go about it.  I don’t know anything about being a prophet…but I’m not following your logic on this one.

I’m not sure Ezekiel did either.  I love his response after finding out he has to cook his bread on a crap fire.  (Though he never seems to object any of the other stuff…which I find surprising.)

“‘Then I said, ‘O Sovereign LORD, must I be defiled by using human dung?  For I have never been defiled before…I have never eaten any meat forbidden by law.’”  (Ezekiel 4:14)

Basically he’s saying, “Yeah….uh, I really, really don’t want to eat poop bread God.  Look, I’ve followed all of your laws in the past and pretty much have a perfect record.  Can’t you cut your homeboy a little slack on this one?”  I love it.  Clearly even this guy has his limits.

And God’s response is just as great as Ezekiel’s.

“‘All right’, said the LORD.  ‘You may bake your bread with cow dung instead of human dung.’”  (Ezekiel 4:15)

Ha ha.  I bet Ezekiel just sat there thinking, “Holy shit.”

And it was.

God Calls It Quits

What You’ve Missed…
* Jeremiah cries over Israel’s disobedience.
* God tells Jeremiah to take off his underwear, and after reading about God telling Isaiah to do the same, I’m starting to think Magic Mike might be the holiest movie in theaters right now.
* Jeremiah cries some more.
* God forbids Jeremiah to marry.
* Jeremiah continues to cry, breaking women’s hearts everywhere, who will never receive a rose from the world’s most sensitive bachelor. (Author’s note: No actual, historical evidence has been found to support the idea of Jeremiah being a heartbreaker. But we’ll keep looking…)

Day 225
Daily Reading: Jeremiah 31, 49-51

What I didn’t include in the re-cap above are the following verses God spoke through Jeremiah:

“I have abandoned my people, my special possession. I have surrendered my dearest ones to their enemies.”  (Jeremiah 12:7)

“So this is what the LORD said to his people: ‘You love to wander from me and do not restrain yourselves.  Therefore, I will no longer accept you as my people…’”  (Jeremiah 14:10)

“‘You have abandoned me and turned your back on me,’ says the LORD.  ‘Therefore, I will raise my fist to destroy you.  I am tired of always giving you another chance…I will destroy my own people, because they refuse to change their evil ways.  There will be more widows than the grains of sand on the seashore.”  (Jeremiah 15:6-8)

Basically it’s the end of the line for the Hebrews.  They ain’t ridin’ on friendly, little Thomas the Tank Engine that’s for sure.  “Minding the Gap” isn’t going to do anything for anyone at this point because Israel is cruising full speed on a Japanese bullet train.  A bullet train to hell.

Okay, maybe that’s somewhat of an exaggeration (not to mention an awesome horror movie tagline, which I would like to copyright and sell to any interested parties).  However, God does seem to truly be at the end of his rope here, ready to call it quits.  Ready to not simply abandon His people, but fully destroy them.  That’s some intense talk.

What confused me though was noticing I still had quite a bit of the Old Testament remaining in my Bible.  How could this be the end of the Jews if there were still hundreds of pages to read?

Turns out, God STILL shows some compassion.

“‘I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.  With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”  (Jeremiah 31:3)

“‘Is not Israel still my son, my darling child?’ says the LORD. ‘I often have to punish him, but I still love him.  That’s why I long for him and surely will have mercy on him.”  (Jeremiah 31:20)

WHAT!?  God, you JUST said you were going to destroy them, because you were tired of giving second chances.  Your words, not mine.  What’s the deal?  It seems like you’re changing your mind quicker than Lady Gaga changes, well, everything.   I don’t mean to be rude, but God, it seems like you’re going back on your word quicker than a Kardashian reneging on their wedding vows.  What’s the deal here?

If you’re wondering whether God spoke back to me, He didn’t.  (And if you’re wondering if He smote me for such blasphemous questioning, He didn’t do that either.  Surprised?  Yeah, me too.)

It’s here I’m left scratching my butt, trying to figure out how God works.  Yes Jeremiah goes on to explain God heard Israel crying out with an apology for turning away, repenting, and asking to be reunited with Him again, (Jeremiah 31:18-19) but still, God said no more second chances.  Yet, God relents, and not only has mercy on His people, but goes so far to say He will bless them, bringing them happiness, joy and rest.

I’m about as confused here as I was the first time I tried to French kiss Jeni Herring in seventh grade.  At the end of it all (which was probably about three seconds honestly), I just stood there, feeling really awkward, not having the slightest clue what to do or say.  Unlike God, it was soon thereafter when Jeni decided that she preferred actual kissing to being slobbered on by an over eager nerd, and called it quits for us.

But I know God hasn’t left me.  (Then again, he hasn’t been on the receiving end of my “particularly salivary” make-out style.)  And that’s the point.  He didn’t turn his back on Israel either.  Even when He said He would.  He says no more second chances, and then gives them another chance!  He says it’s over for good, and then decides to stick it out.  What am I supposed to do with that?  It’s honestly incredibly frustrating.

I mean, I guess it comes down to the fact God just does what He wants?  Maybe.  Or that His bottom line is the whole “everlasting love” deal He mentions?  Maybe.  Or that He is more like a parent than we realize, and even though He’s at His wit’s end (can an infinite being have a wit’s end?) with his kids’ behavior, He still finds himself charmed by them, being overwhelmed by how much He loves them, to the point that He changes His mind?  Maybe.

Maybe it’s all of that.  Maybe it’s none of it.  Who knows?  (No, really, tell me if you do.  I’d like to know.)  Or maybe it’s like my ability to French kiss and I’ll just never get it.

It’s Getting Hot In Here

What You’ve Missed…
* Jeremiah narrowly avoids death by stoning, which counts as a good day for anyone.
* Jeremiah continues to speak prophecies to Israel, though they don’t seem to like it much. And really, neither does Jeremiah.  (He actually tried to quit.)
* Also, it turns out Jeremiah was not, in fact, a bullfrog.  Nor is there any record of him helping anyone to drink their wine.
* Israel turns into Bayside High when Mr. Belding, I mean King Nebuchadnezzar, takes over and becomes buddies with a local kid named Zack Morris, I mean Daniel, who becomes the coolest kid in school, I mean Israel.  The crazy stories that ensue are perfect for countless after-school re-runs, I mean the Bible.

Day 219
Daily Reading: Daniel 2-3, Jeremiah 7

Before we get to the meat of today’s reading, I’d like to comment briefly on something the Bible mentions that I have beef with; Being a vegetarian.  Apparently Daniel and his tree-hugging buddies only ate organic veggies, and were healthier than all the other young dudes in the kingdom.  Thanks Bible for that “slight nudge” and free guilt trip to lay off the Double Quarter Pounders and Grilled Stuffed Burritos.  No wonder my mom loves you.

Moving on.  So King Nebuchadnezzar (gesundheit!) gets bored and decides to make a huge gold statue for himself.  Well, that’s what it says anyway, though I doubt he lifted a single finger to actually help.  (What good totally-egocentric-iron handed dictator actually does any work?  None of the great ones, that’s for sure.)  But apparently sitting around looking at a gold statue isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, so ol’ Nebs adds a new element to the equation.  He creates a law that says everyone has to worship the statue, and if they refuse, well, they become human bar-b-que.  (Alright Bible I get it.  Stick with the veggies.  Gotcha.  By the way…we are counting cheese as a vegetable right?)

So, as you Sunday school attendees know, three Hebrew guys refused to play along and were sentenced to be burned alive.  The names of those three guys?  The famous Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (whose real names are actually Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, but those are harder to say, and most of us have already memorized the other ones, which are catchier anyway, so let’s just go ahead and stick with those.)  Apparently, our boy King Nebulicious took it personally that these three dudes wouldn’t join in the idol worship.

“Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage.  He commanded the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual … So [the soldiers] tied them up and threw them in to the furnace fully dressed…and because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the men in.”  (Daniel 3:19-23)

That’s hot.  Really hot.  Like, Toyota hot, hot, hot.  I’m no stranger to a good marshmellow roast.  In fact, I sort of think of myself as somewhat of a professional mallow roaster (I have the burnt knuckle hairs to prove it…except, they’ve grown back healthy…so uh, you’re just going to have to take my word for it) but even I recognize that even the hottest camp fire I’ve ever been around is Busch League Boy Scout stuff compared to this thing.  The dudes died just by getting close to it?  Really…is that even possible?  Did they catch on fire?  Did they just melt?  Did their ashes fall into a neat little pile like in a cartoon, or did they simply go Kansas and become dust in the wind?  I don’t know.  But I do know that I can’t even imagine heat like that.  I mean, come on…I’ll be honest.  If it were me, I can see myself being scared out of my tighty-whities and backing out of the whole thing (after totally peeing my pants of course.)

How committed to their God were these three guys?  Not only did they not back out, they went into the flames confidently.

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us.  He will rescue us from your power…but even if he doesn’t…we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”  (Daniel 3:16-18)

Pardon my language, but those guys had balls.  Let me rephrase that.  Those guys had some serious faith balls.  They went willingly towards a ridiculously horrible death, simply believing God would save them.  They didn’t try to talk their way out, or work their way out, or even use the creative ingenuity God gave them (see Daniel 1:17) to figure out how to save themselves.  They literally just trusted God to do all the work.  Again, balls.

Turns out, God didn’t need them to say a special prayer, or atone for their sins the moment before death or anything, because He indeed did do all the work.

“‘Look!’ Nebuchadnezzar shouted.  ‘I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed!  And the fourth looks like a god!’ … Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stepped out of the fire…not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched.  They didn’t even smell of smoke!”  (Daniel 3:25-27)

So…what just happened?  I’ll tell you.  These guys just took bonfire partying to the next level by not just partying hard around a bonfire, but partying inside of it.  I mean, they even had a friend come over and hang out for awhile.  That blows all of your field party stories out of the water.  “Oh, you guys almost burned down Old Man Higgins’ field at your kegger last weekend?  I’d be impressed, except for the fact I almost burned down at the bonfire we had last month.  Yeah, I gave my buddies a high five.  IN the fire.”

I would now like to officially declare Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego Biblical Ballers.  (No pun intended.)  You, gentlemen, just showed us what it looks like to be a dedicated follower of God.  If I wore hats, they’d be off to you.

After reading this, walking on coals seems like kiddie stuff.  Not that I’m willing to try it or anything.

It’s Personal

What You’ve Missed…
* God seems to be an emotional wreck all throughout the book of Isaiah.  He seems more upset and angry with everything happening in life than most middle school students on their worst day of seventh grade.  (Yeah, it’s that intense.)
* King Hezekiah and King Manasseh are the only two out of like, a bunch of kings, to actually worship God.  Israel and Judah are mostly being governed by a string of total jerks, jugheads, and jack-wagons at this point.
* Jeremiah busts onto the prophetic scene and has a lot to say to Israel, most of which could be summed up by the song titles from New Kids on the Block’s 1988 album Hangin’ Tough, with sweet jams such as “Please Don’t Go Girl” and “I Remember When”. (No, seriously.  It’s pretty remarkable.  But mostly it’s embarrassing that I’m even aware of this.)

Day 212
Daily Reading: Jeremiah 5-6, 2 Kings 22, and 2 Chronicles 34

At this point in our story, life in Israel and Judah is pretty much like Jersey Shore.  Everyone just does what they want, when they want, leaving responsibility, consequences, and the bill for someone else who doesn’t have their incredibly well-styled head up their (probably) well styled butt.

But then we’re introduced to King Josiah, who is a fo’ real game changer.  And a fo’ real eight year old.  This kid goes against the grain and decides to follow God.  Eighteen years later (he’s twenty-six at this point for all you math nerds, I mean math people, out there) he makes an important discovery.  During a little spring cleaning, the local head priest discovers the Book of the Law (God’s laws given to Moses) and has it read to king Josiah, which brings about an epiphany.

“When the king heard what was written in the Book of the law, he tore his clothes in despair….The LORD’s great anger is burning against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words written in this scroll.  We have not been doing everything it says we must do.”  (2 Kings 22:11-13)

Annnnnnnnd now it makes sense why most the kings before him did whatever they wanted.   Apparently though they were God’s chosen people, they had no idea He’d given them some life guidelines.  It seems as though God’s law was more of an ancient way of life that most people didn’t put a lot of stock in.  Sort of like Han Solo thinking the Force was just a lot of mumbo jumbo, before shooting up the best bar in sci-fi history.

But unlike everyone’s favorite spice-smuggling space pirate, Josiah puts a lot of stock in the recently rediscovered Law and decides for himself to believe in and follow it.  I can relate to that.  A lot.

I think (and this is a gross generalization that I shouldn’t make, but will) many modern day Christians are in a similar boat to that of Israel and Judah (though they were in the desert, and probably didn’t have boats at all) in that many Christians sort of do the whole Christian “thing” without really investigating it for themselves.  That is, I think many American Christians simply live the way they are told to by their parents, pastors or youth group leaders.

Over time, that way of life has become mixed up in our culture in a way that I think has people missing the point of why anyone is even Christian at all.  Just like in Israel, where people believed they were God’s chosen ones not because they chose to be, but because someone simply declared to them they were, people today say they’re a Christian because they have some Christian traditions in their family, and have basically just been told they are a Christian by the generation before them.

That’s how it was for me for a long time.  I thought of myself as a Christian, mostly because of my upbringing in Sunday school and Wednesday night youth group.  But as an adult, I went my own way, doing whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  (Crap, that means I was pretty much a total Jersey Shore d-bag…just with video games vying for my attention rather than tons of hot girls.)

And that’s the whole reason this blog even exists.  Because last November, something in me wanted to start reading the Bible for myself.  To think about it for myself.  To take ownership of my relationship with God, and not to have it defined by what people told me it was supposed to be.  Much like Josiah, I have been amazed at what I’ve found.

So this story was a surprise to me, because it’s about a guy who thought he was following God from an early age, but it wasn’t until he was in his mid twenties that he even discovered what that even meant.  Discovering what God had actually said to His people changed everything for Josiah. (And it’s changing a lot for me too.)

It’s like Total Recall.  [Yes I’m only bringing it up because I just had my mind blown by the trailer for the new remake (and had my mind blown at the ridiculous hotness level of Jessica Biel.)]  In the movie, ol’ Arnie has a revelation when he discovers the true reality of what his life is really all about.  The only difference I can see between the movie and my and Josiah’s story is that neither Josiah or myself had a friend with an alien that looks like a heroin-wrecked Cabbage Patch Kid growing out of his stomach.  Nor were we super-spies who worked deep-cover espionage on Mars.

Other than that…it’s basically the same thing, really.

(In re-reading this post, I think it comes across a little confusing. Basically all I’m saying is that as a guy who decided to read God’s Word for himself, I liked the story about a Jewish king who did the same. I’m also trying to make the point that it’s important for Christians to actually do this as well. But Francis Chan says it way better. Way better? Much better? Either way, check out this great talk he gave recently.)