Tag Archives: Bible

A peg in a secure place

For about the past six weeks, I’ve been studying for twelve hours each day. I know this because I’ve been timing myself. I keep a stopwatch on my desk. When I’m studying, I start it, and if I get up to get a snack or go to the bathroom, I stop it. It helps me stay motivated and keep account of my time.

I’ve been studying because I take step 1 of my licensing exam in three days. There are three parts of the exam, but the first is the most important, because residencies use the scores to sift which students they will and will not seriously consider hiring. I’ve rarely been this stressed in my life, and I’ve rarely ever worked this hard. Sometimes, the weight of studying seems crushing, as page after page accumulates, and half-remembered factoids keep me awake at night as I try to remember what I’ve forgotten.

There’s a beautiful and terrifying passage in Isaiah that describes ancient Judah in a much more dire situation than mine. The Assyrian empire is ravaging the world, and the tide-waters of the Assyrian army are lapping at the gates of Jerusalem. While Jerusalem is under seige, King Hezekiah sends Eliakim out of the city gates to negotiate. At this point, everything Judah trusted in has failed them. Egypt won’t rescue them. Their army is dwarfed by the Assyrians.

Eliakim and two others go out alone to meet the Assyrians, and Rabshakeh, apparently some kind of Assyrian commander, begins to mock and taunt. Rabshakeh promises that Jerusalem will fall, that Egypt won’t save them, that the Jews have no strategy, and that God Himself certainly won’t rescue Judah.

Eliakim must have been terrified. You can imagine him standing before the countless, clattering Assyrian army, trying to remember what he was supposed to say. Isaiah describes the moment colorfully–Eliakim is a peg in a wall, and all of Judah’s hope is hanging on his negotiating skills. At first, he is strong and secure, but as item after item is hung on the peg, the tension builds. Eliakim fails, and the peg with all the pots and pans that were hanging on it comes crashing to the ground:

“In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah… And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house. And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken.”
-Isaiah 22:20-25

When Rabshakeh is done taunting, Eliakim doesn’t know what to say. Rather than negotiating, or boasting that God would save them, Eliakim asks Rabshakeh to please speak in Aramaic, rather than Hebrew, so that the soldiers on the walls of besieged Jerusalem will not be able to understand, probably hoping that the soldiers on the wall won’t become even more terrified (Isaiah 36:11). Predictably, Rabshakeh then begins shouting to the men on the wall in Hebrew, telling them that their God and their king can’t save them, and that they should either surrender or die (36:13-20).

Israel’s response? “But they were silent and answered him not a word.” (36:21).

Eliakim had failed. Like Israel, I often hang all my hopes on the amount of studying I do, and on my own ability to learn material. This is a mistake. At some point, I will fail. I’m not a secure peg. Studying is necessary, but only God can make me succeed–only God can make anyone succeed.

Hezekiah was crushed when Eliakim returned with the news. Now that Israel had nothing left to rely on, Hezekiah could only rely on God. He prayed, and the Lord answered. There was some kind of plague, or something more miraculous, and thousands of Assyrians died, so that they had to return home (Isaiah 37:36-37).

I am not a reliable peg, and nothing I study is a reliable peg. God has gotten me into medical school, and He’ll take me through it with just the right step 1 score, and just the right grades. All of my hopes and concerns should be hung on Him–anything else is bound to fail eventually.

“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into the city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the Lord. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
-Isaiah 37:33-35

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Romans 6:11-14

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.”
-Romans 6:11-14

Live Quietly

Christians are obnoxious.

Well, okay, not all Christians are obnoxious, but some of us certainly can be. I’m sure you can tell I’m a Christ-follower, so I need to give you a bit of an explanation. In America today, Christians are loud.

Christians vote Republican.
Christians protest at abortion clinics.
Christians are anti-gay marriage.
Christians are pro-Israel.

These are some sweeping generalizations, and they’re untrue. There are Christians who disagree with all of these, but for obvious reasons, these generalizations are often what come to mind when people think of Christians.

But is this really what God wanted people to see of his church, of his representatives on this earth? Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was gently written and full of encouragement. In the letter, Paul reminisces frequently about the joyful time he had when he visited them, but he also has some interesting advice about how the church should relate to “outsiders”, to the greater cultural and societal context of the church:

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”
-1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 (ESV)

Paul advises the Thessalonians to live quietly and to mind their own affairs. Why? So that they may live properly before outsiders. Everything the church does should be motivated by a love for God and a love for other people. God is love, and the church should also love. As a church, our imperative is to tell people about the gospel, about how God loves them and wants them to know him. Our imperative is not to improve society–our society is broken beyond repair, and the only way it will ever be made right is when the Lord makes all things new at the end of time.

So should we really be so politically active with our beliefs? Maybe not, especially because not everyone in the church even agrees on these smaller issues. Focusing on these small issues and doing so with such vigor is only likely to make people angry, rather than drawing them to Jesus. The Gospel is already divisive enough without making it political. Even the simplest claims of Jesus incite people to argue with each other, and he knew this (“For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother.” Matthew 10:35). Even claiming that God exists is controversial. Claiming that we should love this God and give him our lives is more controversial still.

God is love, and he wants us to love people. Perhaps we should rethink our approach to this.

My wife has a built-in relationship health detector

My wife has a built-in relationship health detector. I’m not sure how it got there–I don’t remember installing it–but it’s there. I know she has one, because it went off yesterday morning. Usually, my wife and I wake up together and spend a few minutes cuddling each morning, telling each other how attractive we are, saying “I love you” way too many times… I’ll spare you the mushy details.

At a beach in MaineHowever, lately I’ve been waking up at about 5 am to read, write blog posts like this one, and review a few materials for medical school. For the past few days I’ve just kept reading until she was awake and having breakfast. Yesterday, after she was all dressed for work, she shuffled over to me, gave me a cozy hug, looked up at me with her pretty blue eyes, and quietly mentioned that it might be nice to do a little cuddling in the morning.

This sort of thing usually works on me immediately, as my wife’s blue eyes are very pretty. Somewhere along the way in our two years of marriage, someone told me about these relationship health detectors, and I’ve learned to pay attention to them. Without my wife, I have no doubt that I would immerse myself in studying all the time, reading all the time, or doing any number doing any number of things that don’t matter nearly as much as human relationships. God designed us for relationships with other people, and I’m fully convinced that anything meaningful we can do in life involves doing something kind for other people. My wife is the most important “other person” in my life, and her relationship health detector is very reliable, and very important.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
-Ephesians 5:25

A Great Light

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.
-Isaiah 9:2 (TNIV)

A few weeks ago I was camping in the Montana wilderness. There was no moon, and at night, I could see only blurry outlines. I was lucky even to see ten feet in front of myself, and I could only barely discern the outline of my tent so I could walk from the campfire to bed. But by the light of the morning sun I could make out the finest details on the furthest mountains.

This is the effect Jesus had on the followers of God. The Old Testament was the crescendo–it demonstrated our sinfulness, chronicled God’s loving-kindess to Israel, and promised that the Lord would come to earth. The Old Testament was the dawn of God’s light on the world. In Genesis, Kings, Chronicles, and the other historical books of the Old Testament, the Jewish focus is on their development as a nation and how they’ll find their place among the people of the world. They ask God for security, economic welfare, and happiness.

By the time the prophetic books are being written, Israel has been repeatedly ravaged by conquerers, and the Jews are scattered. The prophecies still hinge on Israel as a nation, but the focus has changed a little bit. God cares for Israel’s national well-being, but the prophecies start to spend more and more time talking about knowing God and about God’s effect on the world. You start to see predictions like the one above–on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.

Micah prophesied that God would teach Israel, but also that the world would learn about God from Israel:

Many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
-Micah 4:2

When Jesus came and began his ministry, the light of God exploded across the landscape of Israel and eventually to the farthest parts of the earth. All the vague outlines and dawn-lit shapes of the Old Testament were brought into sharp focus by Jesus and his teaching. This is why Paul’s writing is so clearly and logically articulated. Before Jesus, the understanding of God’s kingdom wasn’t quite clear enough to write a detailed theological exposition like Romans.

When Jesus came, the Jews were in great darkness. They were oppressed by the Romans and ruled by Herod, who was infinitely more corrupt than any Illinois politician. If you think Israel wasn’t oppressed, consider that only 40 years after Jesus died, the Romans completely destroyed the temple, the center of the Jewish national identity. Today, we’re still in great darkness, but we’ve also seen a great light, one that can help us understand ourselves and the things that are going on around us.