A Different View on Hezekiah

A Different View on Hezekiah

I will now do on my blog what I did last night for my Tuesday night group. Contradict my previous post. Here’s the idea in a Monty Python sketch:

Watch to the end. I dare you!

What I did was quote a scholar whom I respect, and in fact who has been my companion through much of my study of the book of Isaiah, Brevard Childs.

For my part, I am unconvinced that these explanations help in understanding the judgment [the exile-HN]. The very fact that the narrator of the chapter is unwilling to proceed in these directions should check the need for supplying reason. The writer’s emphasis rather falls on establishing a link from one event to another. The judgment that was shortly to occur was not by accident of even directly evoked by the king’s misdeed, but unfolded according to to a divine plan. This theme clearly emerges in the response of Hezekiah to the prophet. Ackroyd (“An Interpretation of the Babylonian Exile,” Studies, 157ff.) has mounted a persuasive case against interpreting it as a smug response that the judgment will not personally affect him. Rather, it is an acceptance of the divine will in which Isaiah’s form of the response (39:8) emphasizes the certainty of divine blessing at least in his lifetime.

Brevard Childs, Isaiah, Old Testament Library, (Louisville, KY: Westminster-John Knox Press, 2001), p. 287.

For my part, I am unconvinced that the normal sparseness of Hebrew narrative is an indication of a lack of moral commentary. I admit that I may read this too much in the context of 2 Kings, but I think the Isaiah context supports this adequately. But Brevard Childs is a really excellent commentator.

Hezekiah’s Horrible Prayer

Hezekiah’s Horrible Prayer

We’ll be continuing our discussion of Isaiah 36-39 tonight in my Tuesday night group, hopefully finishing that section. Last week, we looked at Hezekiah’s prayer for healing.

For those who may not remember, it’s a short one:

“Remember now, O LORD, I implore you, how I have walked before you in faithfulness with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Is 38:3). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

No confession, no praise. Just “Look how good I am!”

I’m going to guess that most of us have prayed prayers just like this one. Why is this happening to me? I’m doing ____ and this is what I get?” It’s not unnatural. In fact, it’s very natural. Of the flesh, even!

So God hears Hezekiah’s prayer and sees his tears. God gives Hezekiah what he desires.

Is it a good thing or not?

We tend to see healing as always a good result. In this case, I think it’s worth thinking about the story. During that 15 years we have the visit of the messengers of Merodach-baladan from Babylon, to whom Hezekiah shows everything. Very little is explicitly said, but God clearly does not approve.

It is not unlikely that this meeting was a plan for alliance, presumably against Assyria, as Babylon was aiming to retake the lead position in Mesopotamia, something they didn’t accomplish until Nabopolassar accomplished it late in the 7th century BCE.

Did God see this as a denial of the protection God had just promised to Hezekiah and to Jerusalem?

Then in 2 Kings 21 we see Manasseh, generally considered the worst king of Judah, took the throne at 12 years of age on the death of his father. His birth would have occurred in those 15 years added to Hezekiah’s life.

I can’t help but contrast this to another answered prayer, as mentioned in Hebrews 5:7. In reference to Jesus’ prayer in the garden, we are told that he was heard because of his reverent submission. Yet the cup did not pass from the hands of Jesus. Jesus went on to the cross.

Sometimes the best answers to our prayers may not involve us getting what we asked for. Getting what we asked for might not be the best result.

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Respect, Disrespect, and Conscience

Respect, Disrespect, and Conscience

I have seen a number of posts suggesting that those who won’t recite or stand for the pledge of allegiance are disrespectful, or perhaps just badly behaved. Good people, by implication, will say these words and join in the group.

My view of this is formed by my upbringing. I am a United States Air Force veteran. I was not wounded. I really didn’t feel great fear for my life, but I have the “been there” medals for three different overseas military actions. I am both proud to have served, and believe I did right by doing so.

My father, on the other hand, was a conscientious objector. He was a Seventh-day Adventist, and believed that taking lives even in war was wrong. He would have served in a medical capacity, but was not allowed that option in Canada during World War II. Some Canadians were accepted into medical roles, but many were not. So he spent World War II planting trees.

This was not a matter of disrespect for his county. It was a matter of conscience. He believed that training with and then carrying a rifle into combat was wrong. Obviously, I disagree. My participation in the military was without limitations. No, carrying a rifle is not the Air Force thing, but however distant we may be, in war people die partially as a result of our actions.

My dad also respected my choice, as much as he disagreed with it. He would have preferred that I not go into combat. We didn’t discuss it that much, but we knew the score.

So when people say that by protesting a war or any policy of the government someone is disrespecting my service, I firmly disagree. One of the things I am proud of is that my service helps defend a country where a conscientious objector can be diverted to service in some other way in war time.

I also defended a country which has, as one of its founding stories, the revolutionary and protest action of dumping tea—a commercial product of value to its owners—into the harbor in protest of the taxes imposed on it.

Some of the folks I see commenting today would surely have been incensed at this action. Destruction of public property! Against the law! Disrespectful! Aren’t they grateful for the defense provided by the British troops?

These protesters, however, felt that this was an important issue, with underlying principles that were worth breaking the existing law in order to protest. They were very, very disrespectful.

I know there are people who just don’t care for any form of authority. But the majority of cases come from two groups of people: 1) Those who have a reason of conscience for their actions, and 2) Those who believe they have been so badly handled by our society that they need to shake things up to get noticed.

Like my dad, who believed that in spite of conscription laws, God’s law said he could not fight in the war, some believe that they cannot swear oaths. This might be because Jesus said that (Matthew 5:33-37). Now I have a different interpretation of that passage, but some people believe that this is a specific and literal command. They don’t believe they can take oaths.

I’m glad that I served in defending a country that makes exceptions for those who do not believe they can swear an oath. There is alternative language that is permitted. I’m glad of that, I support it, and I am glad that I defended it.

Others don’t believe they can swear allegiance, or even affirm allegiance to any earthly power. Thus, “I pledge allegiance to the flag” is, to them, a denial of the sovereignty of Christ and acceptance of a lesser power. I don’t agree with them, as I believe every claim or affirmation I make falls into a category that is less than my allegiance to God, but that doesn’t change their consciences.

Again, I am glad to have served to defend a country that allows this right and I am disturbed when people mock them or make fun of them. They are following their conscience and are right to do so. I would say that they need to be “convinced in their own minds” (Romans 14:5, mildly out of context, I think!).

Further, if someone believes they have been so mistreated by our society that their best recourse is to call attention to the problem through acts of protest, whether or not I approve of their approach, I am not the one who has been treated unfairly. It is not for me to judge the depth of either pain or conviction, or more probably a combination of both, that has led to an act of protest.

I am again glad to have served to defend a country that will allow such protests. It is important that they be permitted. Don’t complain if the person doing the protest is privileged (yes, think Colin Kaepernick), because that person may well be using a position of influence on behalf of others less privileged.

Further, I don’t have to approve of the cause. The important thing about freedom of expression is that one is free to express things of which I (or anyone else) disapproves. Freedom of speech or expression is not for the things of which society approves. You don’t need a bill or declaration of rights to protect the things the majority wants to do. It’s there to protect the things that the majority disapproves.

The cause is separate from the method as well. I don’t have to approve even of the aim of the person protesting to approve of his or her right to protest. That again is why we need a right to freedom of speech. It’s for the things that make us angry. It’s for the people we want to shut up. Those are the people who need, and should have, protection.

There are religions of which I do not approve. No surprise there! You can note my disapproval because I haven’t joined those religions. But that is what freedom of religion is for. It protects the practice of religions that are not in the majority and may not be approved. And yes, this includes Islam, which, contrary to many assertions recently, is a religion.

And yes, I extend this to those of differing political views. This continues to apply whether they’re wearing MAGA hats or have Bernie Sanders bumper stickers. It’s most important that we have a free exchange of ideas in our society.

If this annoys you, just remember this: I also support your right to be annoyed. Enjoy!

(Theme image from Pixabay.com)

Sin and the Church as Community

Sin and the Church as Community

In what he confesses is a long post, but is still shorter than my normal post, Dave Black discusses how to translate the Greek word ekklesia, both in terms of an English word (he chooses “community”), and in practice.

I’ve been discussing this in connection with the question of dealing with sin in the church. Many mainliners don’t want to think about this, or even think we shouldn’t deal with it. It’s part of “not judging.”

But then you have issues such as sexual abuse which must be dealt with, and we find that we really don’t have any idea what to do.

In the several cases in which I have had the opportunity to discuss this, I have always come back to this: We cannot adequately deal with sin in the church because the church is not functioning as a community. There are many elements to this issue, including clergy-laity distinctions, or more precisely leadership-followership.

People have been told not to report evil, because they will damage the reputation of a “good man.” (I suppose it could be a good woman, but I have heard it several times, and only regarding the reputation of good men.)

We need to be looking at—and implementing—ways of making the church a functioning community. One characteristic (of many) of this would be that we do not excuse abuse by leaders.

But Did God Approve of That?

But Did God Approve of That?

Last night in my Tuesday night group we were discussing the story of Hezekiah in Isaiah 36 & 37, in which King Sennacherib of Assyria attacks Judah, and things get pretty dire. Following a sneering message from the Assyrian king, Hezekiah, at the beginning of chapter 37, tears his clothes, puts on sackcloth, and goes to the house of the Lord.

The first question we had was whether people liked this action. Here’s the king acting afraid, worried, and uncertain about this message. I found it pretty easy to discuss this from a sociological and political point of view. How is it that a king like Hezekiah, in a tiny kingdom such as Judah, manages to hold everything together when pretty much everything is in enemy hands except for three cities?

I’d suggest that part of the reasoning (ignoring God’s involvement for the moment) comes from the fact that unlike his father, King Ahaz (Isaiah 7), Hezekiah goes to the prophets. The prophets were a political force. We have more evidence for this from the northern kingdom than the southern one, but it seems a reasonable assumption to me.

Further, the priesthood of Jerusalem was another force in the nations politics, and Hezekiah was the one who centralized worship in Jerusalem. That would have endeared him to that group.

Thus I suspect Hezekiah had his political ducks in a row as far as powerful groups in the country were concerned. Which, of course, ignores the role of the God of Israel.

Someone in our group asked this: But was God pleased?

The background here is one of doubt. In a sense, both Hezekiah and his father Ahaz show doubt. Ahaz does this by ignoring the prophet, assuming that he has to do the necessary work to protect himself when Isaiah says God’s word is that the alliance against Ahaz will not prosper.

Hezekiah, rather than putting on the perfect performance of piety and trust in God, which might have involved getting up and dramatically announcing that the God of Israel was greater than all the gods of Assyria, tears his clothes.

This is one of the interesting—perhaps the most interesting—questions we can ask in reading a Bible story. The Bible, particular in the Hebrew scriptures, tells stories in a fairly sparse fashion and doesn’t spend a great deal of time explaining the details to us. We have to read the stories carefully and ask ourselves what moral lessons may apply. Sometimes our perspective can change over time.

In this case, I think I can answer quite definitively. I think God was very pleased with Hezekiah. I have a few reasons for that:

  • Hezekiah is honest. In the modern church we have a great deal of pretense, because we expect certain performance from our leaders. If the pastor expresses doubt, the foundations are shaken. This is an unrealistic expectation whether of a pastor or of a national leader. This is your Old Testament edition of 2 Corinthians 12:10 in two acts: Isaiah 7 has Ahaz strong, so God is, in effect, weak. In Isaiah 37 Hezekiah is weak, and God is strong!
  • God gets the glory. Because of Hezekiah’s honest, God gets the resulting glory. I back this up with the story in Isaiah 38 & 39. When Hezekiah is healed by divine action, messengers come to see him. He shows them everything. Now the story doesn’t say it directly, but it appears he shows them how strong he, Hezekiah, is, and neglects God’s glory.
  • Hezekiah seeks God immediately. While he is afraid, he nonetheless goes to God rather than seeking the answer himself.

These two stories in Isaiah 36-39 (I think some might make it three or even four stories, but I think of it as two parts, and effectively the acts completing what happened with Ahaz) open up a great deal of room for meditation and discussion on leadership, weakness, dependence on God, and action.

It’s said, however, that Hezekiah ends up on a very selfish note. In Isaiah 39:8 he tells himself everything is OK, because destruction and exile won’t come in his own lifetime.

Even the best of us, like Hezekiah, can fail!

(Featured image credit: Pixabay.)

Spiritual and Physical Decluttering?

Spiritual and Physical Decluttering?

I wonder if there’s something ironic, or perhaps just odd, about working on the interior layout of a book on Spiritual Decluttering while this is behind me?


Actually, there’s less clutter than there used to be. I’m turning storage space into usable office space, and I’m about half done.

Philippians 2:1-11, Romans 12, and the Nature of Christian Community

Philippians 2:1-11, Romans 12, and the Nature of Christian Community

That’s a fairly ambitious title I gave myself, but the content is a bit less ambitious.

When I found that I’d be teaching from Philippians 2 in Sunday School, I commented that if someone couldn’t teach a class from Philippians 2:5-11, they should just give up teaching. That’s probably a bit harsh, but the passage is certainly teachable.

One key element, that we sometimes don’t emphasize in all the theology, is the fact that the expression of the mission of Jesus is made in the context of a call to Christian community.

Each one shouldn’t look after his or her own interests, but for one another’s interests.

Philippians 2:4 (my translation)

This is tied to the giving of/by Christ through verse 5, which tells us that our minds are to work like his, as we give for others. This is interesting as we see that he has given up much more than we could possibly possess in order to take action for our salvation.

It’s impossible for us to conceive of giving that much; certainly never to actually give it.

A similar call comes in John 15:12 “love one another as I have loved you.” This may sound easy to some, but only if you allow some weak definition of love to replace the one Jesus is using. This is on the way to the cross. “As I have loved you” is not simple.

Yet we find ourselves constantly unable to love those who are different from us in any way whatsoever.

One way to look at and classify a community is to look at the purpose of it’s ties, those things that make it a community that can be identified. A community can gather together and love (or care for, or commit themselves to) one another because they are afraid of the outside world and want to keep it out, or they can commit themselves to the same sorts of values in order to reach out and include the rest of the world.

“Circling the wagons,” is common in westerns. Heaven help the person inside the circle who thought that those outside might be open to peace! Such a person is a traitor, even if they don’t intend to act on their own, because they question the very basis for the circled wagons. They question the reason for this temporary community’s existence.

A medical or dental mission team displays quite the opposite reason. Far from desiring to protect themselves against those they meet in a foreign country, they want to serve. They are bound together by the intent to serve and through the mission they wish to carry out. In this case, the one who wants to reach out to more people is welcomed. The traitor would be one who harms the ability of the team (temporary community) to carry out their mission.

Real communities function between those two poles. One needs identity in order to be of any sort of service. In the command of Jesus, the disciples are to be identified by the way in which they love one another. That makes it clear who is in the community and what the community does.

Then we have the community reaching out to others. Is this love inside the community the mission of that community? Do they bring in more people to love?

If they are to follow the example of Jesus, that must be what they do, because that is what Jesus did. He came to people (all humanity) who did not find him all that attractive. They’d rather have revenge on their enemies than love them. They weren’t ready for Jesus. We aren’t ready for Jesus.

If the community that forms around his principles becomes inward looking, and spends its time defending itself as a privileged community of people who are more right in a theological or even an ethical sense, they will fail to actually emulate their Lord.

Romans 12 points to this when Paul calls for application of these principles to enemies (12:20), to persecutors (12:14), to those who do evil (12:17).

There is another side, the side where we lose our identity. If we become the enemy in order to love the enemy we may lose our ability to help. This is why Christian love is so hard and so rarely attained.

I read a comment recently that we can’t expect our children to love other people if we constantly tell them those other people are wrong. Perhaps. But Christian love calls on us to love the people even when they’re wrong, because we know that God loves us, even when we’re wrong.

This is our identity and our witness, defined by the one we call Lord.

Is There Ever a Good Reason to Leave Your Church?

Is There Ever a Good Reason to Leave Your Church?

I was reading this article on the reasons people leave, titled 5 Rather Startling Reasons People Leave Your Church, and while it is by no means the worst offender, it reminded me of an interesting characteristic of church growth/health books and articles.

The problem is this: We, as leaders in the church, tend to assume that the leadership (of which we’re a part) is right, and the departing members are wrong.

I think that’s frequently not the case. I’ve discussed before my reasons for changing denominations. I grew up Seventh-day Adventist and am now a member of a United Methodist congregation. When I last changed church membership, I assumed it would not be to another United Methodist congregation. The accuracy of my assumption did not quite make it into “true” on the meter.

I actually agree with much of what this article says. Don’t get discouraged because someone leaves. People don’t always leave because you’re doing something wrong.

The inverse of the problem is this: We, as leaders in the church, tend in our darker moments to assume that the leadership (of which we’re a part) must be wrong because members are departing.

Neither of the two assumptions is correct.

So let me look at it from the point of view of the member. What is a good reason to leave your church?

Here, I think, there is a clear, but difficult answer. Ask yourself this: Am I leaving this church to answer a call of God to be somewhere else, or am I leaving it because of my own complaints?

I consider this a good question even if you’re complaining about inappropriate or just plain wrong teachings or policies in the church you’re leaving. The question is always: Where does God want me to be?

That question doesn’t have to be answered by a voice from heaven. It’s an application of wisdom. Where are you best able to serve God? Is God perhaps calling you to be a voice for reformation where you are? Is God looking for you to be a witness elsewhere? Are you needing to learn from someone?

I wouldn’t get too worried about it as long as you’re searching for the best way to serve. If you are looking for a way to get your own way, you’re going to be dissatisfied wherever you go.

Always be on the lookout for where God wants you. Follow that. It may be hard, but it will also be satisfying.

(Featured image credit: Openclipart.org.)