A Time For Lament and Confession

We have sinned with our fathers / we have committed iniquity / we have done wickedly (Psalm 106:6).

Israel understood the importance of a time for lament.

The fourth book of the Psalms began with Moses’ meditation on God’s timetable for the fulfillment of His promises (Psalm 90:1-17); it could be said that the Psalter placed it there as an “answer” to the open questions of Heman and Ethan in Psalms 88 and 89. Most of the fourth book of Psalms praises God; it is quite “theological” for the Psalms (Psalms 91-104). The Psalter closes the fourth book with two parallel psalms primarily about the Exodus and Wilderness wanderings: Psalm 105:1-45 extols YHWH for the mighty signs and wonders He wrought in delivering His people. Psalm 106 seems to begin in a similar vein, praising YHWH for His hesed (steadfast love / covenant loyalty) and mighty deeds for His people (Psalm 106:1-2). The psalmist declares the righteous blessed, and asked YHWH to remember him when YHWH shows favor to His people and gives them prosperity, so he can rejoice and glory with his fellow Israelites (Psalm 106:3-5).

But Psalm 106 is no mere repetition of Psalm 105. The psalmist confesses his sinfulness and the sinfulness of their fathers (Psalm 106:6). A retelling of the events of the Exodus and Wilderness wanderings followed, yet this time emphasizing the people’s disobedience and lack of faith toward YHWH: forgetting His works, desiring meat, making a golden calf, despising the land of the inheritance, yoking themselves to Baal of Peor, and tempting Moses at Meribah (Psalm 106:7-33; cf. Exodus 14:1-Numbers 25:18). The psalmist then confessed Israel’s continued sinfulness when they entered the land: they mixed with the nations, they served other gods, they sacrificed innocent children, and they polluted the land with blood (Psalm 106:34-39; cf. Judges 1:1-2 Kings 25:1). On account of these things YHWH’s anger was kindled, and He gave them into the hands of their enemies who oppressed them; He would deliver them, and yet they would return to rebellion (Psalm 106:40-43).

Yet the psalmist drew encouragement from YHWH’s hesed, remembering His people in their distress, and caused them to be pitied by others (Psalm 106:44-46). The psalmist has confessed the iniquity of his forefathers, identified himself as complicit with them, and ended by calling out to YHWH to be saved, gathered in from all the nations (back to Israel) so they can give thanks to His name and glory in His praise (Psalm 106:47).

In Psalm 105 and Psalm 106 we see a sharp contrast between YHWH’s great love, covenant loyalty, and mighty deeds and Israel’s persistent rebelliousness and sinfulness. The fourth book of the Psalms glorifies and praises YHWH; we can understand why Psalm 105 would be included, but may find Psalm 106 to provide an odd conclusion. Yet, for Israel in exile, the conclusion is appropriate: Israel has learned from its experiences. They have come to understand that the God who did all these mighty deeds for Israel had every right to hand them over to their adversaries; God has not proven untrue to Himself. The psalmist gave voice to Israel to confess the sins of their forefathers, and by extension their own sins, so as to acknowledge their immorality and rebellion in the past, to demonstrate the fruit of repentance, and to beg YHWH for favor so as to obtain full restoration.

It is very easy for us today to find Psalm 106, especially Psalm 106:6, to be a bit unsettling. The author of Psalm 106 is not given but its perspective is consistent with the Exile; therefore, he was not among the generation who perished in the Wilderness, or lived in the days of the judges or early kings. For all we know he may have been born and lived in the days of the Exile, and did not personally participate in any of these sins! Did not Ezekiel establish that people are held accountable only for their own sins, and not the sins of their fathers or children (Ezekiel 18:1-32)?

Ezekiel speaks truth: when we all stand before God on the day of judgment, we will be judged for what we have done in the flesh (Romans 2:5-11, 14:4-12). And yet, from the beginning, Israel understood themselves as fully participating in their own history. Such is why Moses speaks to Israel in the first person plural throughout Deuteronomy 1:1-3:29, even though the people to whom he spoke were not the same individuals who actually experienced the Exodus. YHWH spoke of generational consequences for both righteousness and transgression in Exodus 20:5-6; a person is strongly influenced by their ancestors and cultural environment, a truth being rediscovered in our own day through epigenetic and psychological research. The psalmist of Psalm 106 saw his relationship to Israel and his forefathers very much in the same way: whatever he experiences is directly connected to what his forefathers had done, and therefore he is sharing in its guilt, if nothing else, in terms of its consequences. This psalmist is not alone: Daniel confessed similar sins, identifying himself with his forefathers, in Daniel 9:4-8, and Ezra began his prayer regarding the people’s intermarriages in the same vein in Ezra 9:5-9. Israel lived in a delicate balancing act: yes, each individual would stand or fall before God based on what they had done in the flesh and whether they died in sin or in repentance, even if Israel found that unjust (Ezekiel 18:1-32), but no Israelite lived in a vacuum, shaped by his environment and the inheritance, for good or ill, he received from his ancestors, and in which he or she took part by virtue of living as an Israelite.

As Christians we are invited to look at Israel according to the flesh as our spiritual ancestors; we are to learn from their examples so as to not fall by the same patterns of disobedience (1 Corinthians 10:1-12). But we can also draw strength from more positive examples. Confession and lament are not pleasant or comfortable activities. We may want to claim the positive elements of what we have inherited from our ancestors, but we want to quickly and fully jettison all the uncomfortable and ugly things which were handed down to us. We should indeed want to escape from the iniquity of the past; such is the essence of repentance. But Israel was wise to understand the necessity of sitting in lament, for it is all too easy to suppress the negative parts of our history to the point where it is forgotten, and we presume that we and our forefathers are more righteous than is justifiable. As long as Israel lived in denial about its past and present, Israel persisted in rebellion; Israel only made strides in serving God faithfully when they were willing to confront their sins and the sins of their ancestors, confess them, lament over them, and then appeal to YHWH for His covenant loyalty and favor. So it is for the individual Christian (James 1:22-25); so it is for the people of God individually and collectively (Ephesians 2:1-18, Titus 3:3-7).

For better and worse we are the descendants of our forefathers according to the flesh and according to the Spirit. We do well to uphold their stands of righteousness and persist in it while lamenting their failures in iniquity and turn away from them. We do well to consider ourselves to see what things we may be thinking, feeling, or doing which may bring shame and reproach among future generations of Christians so as to repent of them and give Gentiles past and present no reason to blaspheme (cf. Romans 2:24, 1 Corinthians 10:12). May we confess our sins, lament our iniquity, repent, and find favor in the sight of God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Kingdom Refugees

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia (1 Peter 1:1).

Peter wrote to the Christians in many Roman provinces of what we today call Asia Minor, or Turkey. He speaks of them as “elect who are sojourners” (ASV) or “elect exiles” (ESV) of the “Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1). It would be easy to assume that he wrote specifically to Jewish Christians who considered themselves part of the Diaspora, the Jewish community outside of the land of Israel based on this terminology; it is similar to James 1:1, and of all the nations only Israel would see itself in exile as dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. And yet Peter considered his audience as having been redeemed “from [their] vain manner of life handed down from [their] fathers” (1 Peter 1:17); they were a people who had once not been a people, but were made the people of God (1 Peter 2:10). While the latter prophecy was given specifically to Israel (Hosea 1:1-3:5), and Peter himself considered the Law a burden he nor his people Israel could bear (Acts 15:10), no Israelite would presume that his ancestors had lived in a vain matter, or speak of their people as not the people of God; instead, Peter has Christians converted out of the Gentile world in view (cf. Ephesians 2:11-18, etc.).

Peter appropriated Israelite imagery to describe Christians throughout 1 Peter. Christians are the temple and its priests (1 Peter 2:3-5); titles and concepts associated with Israel are now appropriated for Christians in 1 Peter 2:9-10. Peter used the term “Gentiles” with all of its negative connotations of hostile pagans (1 Peter 2:12, 4:3), even though according to ethnic heritage many of the Christians to whom he wrote would be reckoned as Gentiles. Thus Peter envisioned Christians as the people of God, speaking of them in terms of Israel, and spoke of their opponents among the nations in terms of the Gentiles.

And uniquely among all the letters of the New Testament Peter also appropriated the imagery of sojourn and exile experienced by Israel and applied it to the present circumstance of Christians in the world. Peter addressed the Christians as exiles/sojourners (1 Peter 1:1); exhorted them to reverence before God during their sojourn (1 Peter 1:17-21); encouraged them as sojourners and exiles to conduct themselves appropriately before the Gentiles (1 Peter 2:11-12); and spoke of his current location as “Babylon” (1 Peter 5:13). In this way exile and sojourn proves to be a running theme in 1 Peter: as Israel was exiled by Babylon and had to learn to live as exiles and sojourners, so Christians are to see themselves as exiles/sojourners under “Babylon,” or Rome, and live accordingly.

“Sojourners” and “exiles” are terms often used interchangeably and yet maintain important distinctions and nuances. A sojourner is a person who voluntarily leaves his homeland to go and live somewhere else; Abraham is the model sojourner, following God’s call to leave Ur and Haran and live in Canaan, in which he never owned any property beyond a gravesite (cf. Hebrews 11:9-10). An exile is a person who less than voluntarily leaves his homeland to live somewhere else; Israel in the days of Babylon is the model of exile, a people forced to go somewhere else (Psalm 137:1-9). A sojourner often has good reasons for leaving the homeland and has little desire to return; they are tempted to assimilate into their new land and culture. The exile tends to want nothing more than to return to his homeland; they are tempted to have nothing at all to do with their new land and culture and idolize their country of origin.

Christians are to be as both sojourners and exiles in different ways. Christians are as sojourners inasmuch as they should have no desire to return from the “land” of sin and darkness from which they have been redeemed (Romans 6:21, Ephesians 2:1-18). Christians are exiles inasmuch as they should not feel too comfortable in the land, culture, and nation-state in which they reside, always maintaining primary loyalty to their “real home,” the Kingdom of God in Christ (cf. Philippians 3:20-21). Christians must resist the temptation to assimilate to the land in which they live (Romans 12:2); likewise, Christians must resist the temptation to be so focused on separation from the world so as to be no earthly good, not showing the love God would have us show to those around us (Matthew 22:34-40, Galatians 2:10, 6:10).

Peter did well to speak of the life of the Christian in terms of exile and sojourn. We today rarely speak in those terms; instead, our preferred concept is that of the refugee. A refugee feels compelled to flee their homeland because of strife, war, famine, plague, or other ravages; they seek asylum in another land. Some refugees want nothing more than to forget the past and assimilate into a new land; other refugees desperately cling to their identity from their former land. Christians are to have fled to God for refuge in order to lay hold of the hope of resurrection (Hebrews 6:18); their primary citizenship, and thus loyalty, is to the Kingdom of God, even though they are also to obey earthly authorities (Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Peter 2:11-18). There is no land in which they are to feel fully comfortable; it is not for Christians to plant their flag anywhere and declare it their own in the name of God in Christ. The refugee always remains in a precarious situation, the quality of their life dependent on the goodwill and hospitability of their land of refuge; Christians are always likewise in a precarious situation under any nation-state. Christians cannot get too settled; they cannot too closely align with or be identified with earthly power, lest they prove no longer refugees for God’s Kingdom. As refugees we can identify with those who are marginalized, neglected, oppressed, or in danger; we know that God has special concern for such people (Matthew 25:31-46, James 1:27). As refugees we must be skeptical of the nation-states of man even as we prove obedient to rulers, understanding that the principalities and powers of this present darkness empower the nation-states (Matthew 4:8-9, Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 2:11-18). Christians must know their comfort must not come from their environment but from their God (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

We find it difficult to understand ourselves as refugees because we have not physically gone anywhere; we live in a strange tension, remaining the same demographically as before, and often even within the same nation-state, and yet so fully transformed spiritually so as to be a different person than before. Such was true as well for the Christians to whom Peter wrote. It helps us understand and cope with the fractured relationships and hostility we encounter from those whom we knew beforehand who see our new conduct in Christ and prove hostile to it (cf. 1 Peter 4:1-6). But it also helps us develop a mindset and posture that glorifies God in Christ as distinct from that of the nation-state and culture around us. We may maintain friendship and association with people in the world, and yet they remain as “Gentiles.” We may appreciate the privileges of living under a given nation-state, and yet we remain as refugees within it. If we lose our distinctiveness, we prove unprofitable (Matthew 5:13).

Christians are exiles and sojourners on the earth: refugees for the Kingdom of God in Christ. We must flee the world and its ways so as to find refuge for our souls in God and hope for the resurrection and a world of righteousness in Jesus. May we live in the world as refugees of the Kingdom and glorify God in Christ in all things!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Singing in a Strange Land

For there they that led us captive required of us songs / and they that wasted us required of us mirth / “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing YHWH’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 137:3-4)

The agony is palpable.

The historical books of the Bible tell us the story of the people of God, and generally do so in a rather straightforward fashion. So it is in 2 Kings 25:21, tersely declaring that Judah was exiled out of its land. The shock, the agony, the horror, and the astonishment of the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple and the exile of its people would find its voice elsewhere in Scripture. Few places prove as compelling as Psalm 137:1-6.

The Psalter communicated much simply by placing Psalm 137 in its current location. Psalms 120-134 are the “songs of ascent,” which we believe were sung as pilgrims would ascend the hill country of Judah to approach Jerusalem and Zion, where YHWH made His name to dwell. Psalm 135 praises YHWH as Creator, the God of Israel who destroyed their enemies, and the One True God, no dumb and mute idol. Psalm 136 is the grand call and response powerfully affirming YHWH as the Creator God of Israel, who has done great things, who delivered Israel from his adversaries, and who continues to provide, for His covenant loyalty/lovingkindness (Hebrew hesed) endures forever.

But then Israel sat by the waters of Babylon, and cried when they remembered Zion (Psalm 137:1). They hung up their musical instruments upon the willows (Psalm 137:2). The victorious Babylonians, pagans vaunting over their defeat of the people of YHWH, demand to hear the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:3). The Psalmist’s question rang out: how could they sing YHWH’s song in a strange, alien, foreign, and pagan land (Psalm 137:4)? The Psalmist would go on to resolve to never forget Jerusalem; he would rather forget his skill and never speak a word again before he would forget Jerusalem or enjoy anything above it (Psalm 137:5-6).

Ferdinand Olivier 001

We can barely begin to imagine the trauma of exile for those in Israel. Everything they knew and believed about themselves had literally been dashed to pieces in front of their eyes. They watched as thousands of their fellow Israelites, fellow people of God, died from famine, plague, and sword. They watched as the pagans ransacked the holy places of YHWH, whom they had believed to have been the God of Israel, who maintained covenant loyalty, and who overcame Israel’s adversaries. They were led to a distant land as the spoils of war, a land of strange tongues and stranger customs. Nothing could ever be the same again. Who would they become? What happened to YHWH’s promise? How had He let this happen to His people? How could they sing the songs of ascent to Zion when no such ascent proved possible? How could they sing YHWH’s song in a foreign land?

Without a doubt exile began as an extremely disorienting experience for Israel. Many would apostatize, believing the lie that might makes right, buying into the Babylonian propaganda. Yet for many the exile would prove the catalyst unto greater faithfulness; YHWH really was not only the God of Israel but the One True God, the God of heaven. He judged His people on account of their continual rejection of His purposes; Israel deserved far worse than it actually received. YHWH would again visit His people and bring them out of exile; He would again choose Jerusalem and Zion; Israel would again sing YHWH’s song in His land (Isaiah 40:1-5, Zechariah 2:10-12).

When Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian monarchy and took over the empire, Israel was allowed to return to its land (Ezra 1:1-4). And yet the exile was not fully over; Israel was still captive to foreign powers. Their long exile would only find its satisfaction in Jesus of Nazareth, YHWH in the flesh, having returned to His people, defeating sin and death through His death and resurrection, in His ascension establishing a dominion which would have no end (Daniel 7:13-14, John 2:14-22, Acts 2:36). Israel, and all mankind, received access to God through Jesus, and could become a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, with all the rights and privileges thereof (Ephesians 2:1-18, Philippians 3:20).

Yet before the people of God can inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, they must also experience exile. As Christians we live as exiles and sojourners in this world (1 Peter 1:1, 2:11); we live in its midst, ought to pray for peace and the salvation of all men, and do what is honorable among all, but we cannot love this world, cannot be friends with it, and cannot live according to its customs (Romans 12:1-2, 17, 1 Timothy 2:1-4, James 4:3-5, 1 John 2:15-17). We will be thought strange and consider the ideas and customs around us as strange (1 Peter 4:3-4); no matter how much we may look for a home and security, we will not find it here.

As with Israel, so with us: exile begins as a very disorienting experience. We also are tempted to apostatize, to believe the lie that might makes right, to buy into the propaganda of our nation and our cultural ideology (Romans 12:2). But our exile is designed to prove the catalyst for greater faithfulness, to prove the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:1, 6-7). It is through the crucible of exile that we learn that God is the One True God, who has made Himself known through His Son, and that the only hope of the world is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is through the crucible of exile that we come to understand that the world is out for its own, does not glorify what God would have glorified, and that whatever we have experienced is far less worse than what we have deserved. It is through the crucible of exile that we learn to anchor ourselves in our great confidence and hope that Jesus will return again to gather His people to Him, that we will rise and forever be with the Lord, and dwell in His presence in the resurrection forever (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

It does seem difficult to sing YHWH’s song in a foreign land. Yet we must remember that God has already obtained the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, and we will prove more than conquerors if we remain faithful to Him (Romans 8:37, 1 Corinthians 15:54-58). The day is coming on which we will sing a new song and the song of Moses and the Lamb before the throne (Revelation 5:9-10, 15:3-4); until then, we do well to sing the songs of Zion even in a strange land, glorifying God for what He has accomplished for us through Jesus Christ the Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Seeking Shalom in Exile

And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto YHWH for it; for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace (Jeremiah 29:7).

What had possessed Jeremiah to say such things?

Judah and Judahites were rife with unfounded hopes in the days of Zedekiah king of Judah. They held out hope that somehow a rebellion against Babylon would prove successful; somehow YHWH would deliver them from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar and restore all the persons and possessions which Nebuchadnezzar had taken with him to Babylon (2 Kings 24:11-16, Jeremiah 28:1-5). Some “prophets” among those who had been exiled encouraged those in Babylon to maintain similar hopes (Jeremiah 29:8-9, 15-23).

Jeremiah had received the word of YHWH; he knew better. The end of Judah would come soon; the exile would not last a few months but until after the seventy years of Babylon had been accomplished (Jeremiah 29:10). The exiles were being set up for distress on top of distress, hindering them from establishing some sort of life while in exile. Therefore YHWH directed Jeremiah to send a letter to those exiles, the substance of which is seen in Jeremiah 29:4-23. YHWH encouraged His people in Babylon to perpetuate life: build houses, plant gardens, get married, and have children (Jeremiah 29:5-6). They were to seek the shalom of the city in which they have been exiled, praying to YHWH on its behalf, for in its shalom these exiles will find shalom (Jeremiah 29:7). The letter would go on to explain its purpose, to warn against listening to the false prophets, and to set forth the promise that YHWH would restore them to their land and would do good to them, but only after the years of Babylon had been completed; the doom of the false prophets was also foretold (Jeremiah 29:8-23).

Jeremiah, therefore, wrote so as to provide the exiles with a bit of divine context in order to understand their situation. At the time it was less than appreciated (Jeremiah 29:24-32); after the events of 586 BCE it would prove to be the sustaining lifeline of Judah in exile. YHWH would restore them to their ancestral homeland; YHWH would not abandon them in Babylon. Yet, for the time being, they must be nourished and sustained within Babylon.

Ferdinand Olivier 001

While Israel knew they could not sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land, they could at least make a living in Babylon and prepare their descendants to maintain confidence in YHWH, to prove loyal to His covenant with them and their fathers, and to prepare to return to the land when that day would come (Jeremiah 29:5-6). But the shalom of the city? shalom is the word used three times in Jeremiah 29:7. It is translated as “peace” in the American Standard Version (ASV; also in KJV, NKJV), which is its standard definition. shalom, however, goes beyond the idea of peace as the absence of conflict, representing wholeness and blessing as well; such is why the term is also frequently translated as welfare (so ESV, NASB, RSV, NRSV) or prosperity (so HCSB, NIV). Thus YHWH intended for the exiled Judahites to pray for the city of their sojourning for its overall benefit: an absence of conflict, absolutely, but also its welfare or prosperity, so that all would go well for all of them.

Such is why Jeremiah’s letter would seem so scandalous to the exiles. To seek the shalom of Babylon? shalom for the place and the people who had led Judah captive, who tore down the Temple of YHWH, and who had overpowered the people of God? How could they seek such a thing?

Yet Jeremiah pointed out that the shalom of the city would lead to their own shalom. The Judahites, after all, had just experienced 30 years of significant instability; Judah had seen invasions by Egypt and Babylon, many deportations and plundering, and all of that was before the final convulsive end of the Kingdom of Judah, in which the number exiled most likely paled in comparison to the number who suffered and died from war, plague, famine, and lawlessness (cf. Ezekiel 5:1-17). They needed some shalom. YHWH would provide some shalom for Babylon, not because Babylon deserved it, but on account of His people who now dwelt there. YHWH would bless it for their sake. The people of Judah had no need to fear; the condemnation of Babylon had already been decreed (Jeremiah 29:10, 50:1-51:64). Yet it would happen in stages, and its ultimate end would come without harm to the Israelites who still dwelt in Mesopotamia. YHWH judged His people in His anger, but He never stopped loving or caring for them.

Over six hundred years later Peter would write to the chosen “exiles” of his day, the Christians of modern-day Turkey (1 Peter 1:1, 2:9-10). He encouraged them to abstain from the lusts of the flesh, to maintain righteous conduct among the “natives,” to remain subject to the “native” rulers, for husbands and wives to dwell with each other in appropriate and God-honoring ways, and to seek the good of the “natives” in their midst, even if they are reviled in return (1 Peter 2:11-3:18).

Therefore, while Jeremiah did not write his letter to Christians today, we can learn much from his recommendations for Judah in exile, since we are to understand ourselves as exiles of the Kingdom of Heaven in a modern-day Babylon. We may live in the midst of the people who have or would oppress and persecute us for our confidence in the Lord Jesus. We may wonder how we can sing the songs of Zion in such a foreign land, or how we could “get settled” in such a place.

We do well if we carry on our lives while in exile, to work, marry, and raise up children to know the story of the people of God and to perpetuate it (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:1-15). We do well to seek the shalom of the city in which we reside, to pray to God in Christ for it, so that in its shalom we may have shalom (1 Timothy 2:1-3). Such does not mean God’s judgment will not come against it; the “time of Babylon” will meet its end, and so will that city and its nation-state. Yet we, as sojourners and exiles, know that when those seventy years of life in “Babylon” have come to an end, we will obtain the victory of God in Christ, and will rise triumphantly on the day of resurrection.

The Christian’s hope, therefore, is not in the salvation of the nation-state in which he or she lives. Such a state will fall; its end is decreed; we are to reckon ourselves as sojourners and exiles, citizens of the Kingdom of God, waiting for our ultimate restoration in the resurrection (Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Peter 1:1, 2:11). Yet the Christian is to live in that city, work in that city, and pray for its shalom: we cannot imagine that we can simply escape the problems of the city in which we live, but must do good to all of its inhabitants, and pray on its behalf, both for its peace and for the salvation of its inhabitants (1 Timothy 2:1-4, 1 Peter 3:14-18).

If the Judahites exiled to Babylon could find shalom through YHWH there, we can find shalom in the place where we sojourn. The place in which we sojourn should never feel exactly like home; nevertheless, we must seek its shalom as we await the resurrection of life and a permanent home in the presence of God. May we strive to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in Christ in the midst of this world, doing good to all, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of YHWH!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Refugees

“And a sojourner shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him: for ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

“And a sojourner shalt thou not oppress: for ye know the heart of a sojourner, seeing ye were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).

You can tell a lot about a group of people by how they treat The Other.

The Israelites have set up camp beneath Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-25); YHWH has spoken the Ten Commandments to them (Exodus 20:1-17); and now Moses has gone up to receive more detailed legislation, often called the “Covenant Code,” to provide for Israel (Exodus 20:18-23:33). By this time, ca. 1450 BCE, the people of Israel have lived in lands not belonging to them to any appreciable degree for over 500 years. Around 2000 BCE God called Abram out of Ur and Haran to dwell in Canaan (Genesis 12:1-7). The only land Abraham ever “owned” in Canaan was the cave of Machpelah which he bought so as to bury his wife Sarah and in which he would later be entombed (Genesis 23:1-20, 25:8-10). Isaac and Jacob in turn lived in Canaan among the Canaanites but as sojourners, owning no land (Genesis 26:2-3, 47:9). It was evident that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not really “from” Canaan, made no attempt to hide it, and often reinforced their difference: Abraham did not want Isaac marrying a Canaanite, Rebekah was exasperated by Esau’s Canaanite wives and thus resolved that Jacob would not marry one, and two of Jacob’s sons would exterminate the men of Shechem on account of Shechem’s treatment of their sister Dinah (Genesis 24:3, 27:46-28:9, 34:1-31). The Hebrew author affirms how all these were sojourners seeking something better than the environment in which they lived (Hebrews 11:8-10, 13-16).

The Israelites were more familiar with the previous four hundred and thirty years in which they lived as sojourners in the land of Egypt, at first welcomed as Joseph’s family, and then feared and despised as Canaanites, a “fifth column” in Egypt, and enslaved (Genesis 45:16-20, 47:1-6, Exodus 1:7-12). They lived among people who thought of them as less than nothing, barbaric, inferior, with contemptuous professions and practices (Genesis 43:32, 46:34, Exodus 8:25-26). The Egyptians did not consider YHWH a God worth respecting, at least at first (Exodus 5:2). Thus it could not be reasonably said that the Israelites had an “enjoyable” sojourn, or that their time as a dispossessed people in Egypt was pleasant. Their sojourn represented, to put it mildly, a very uncomfortable experience, and not one which any reasonable person would want to continue to endure.

1867 Edward Poynter - Israel in Egypt

As part of the Law which YHWH gave to Israel on Mount Sinai, while Israel remained a sojourner in a foreign land, YHWH commands them to not oppress sojourners, because they understood the experience of the sojourner (Exodus 22:21, 23:9). Such charity is extraordinary: while ancient Near Eastern cultures, by necessity, enshrined hospitality as an important function for guests, protections for sojourners were not as strong in other law codes as they are in the Law of Moses. Granted, the sojourner has his own responsibilities: he must not have any leaven in his house during the Passover, he must observe the Sabbath and cleanliness regulations, and he must not blaspheme the name of YHWH, for there is one law for both the native Israelite as well as for the sojourner (Exodus 12:19, Leviticus 17:15, 24:16, 22). Yet the integrity of the sojourner is to be respected and maintained.

Very few people want to be sojourners. Throughout history many people have been displaced from their native lands: some gained disfavor because they stood in opposition to the existing rulers or favored rulers who had been defeated; some were part of minority groups suffering under the regime of a majority ruler (or, in some cases, a majority group suffering under the regime of a minority ruler!); others were forced to leave their homeland by an occupying power. Perhaps they felt a bit alien even in their homeland; such feelings would multiply greatly when they would have to live elsewhere. As sojourners they do not truly “fit” into their new land, for they come from a different culture and place. It is understandable why native born people would look at the sojourner with suspicion and hostility as The Other. What does he want? What will he do to me? Can I trust him?

Since Israel understood what it was like to sojourn among people with varying levels of hostility for about 500 years, so now they were to treat sojourners well and not compound their difficulties and sorrows. As Christians today we can learn from this example, for we are to see ourselves as elect exiles, strangers in a foreign land, as citizens of the Kingdom of God in Christ (Philippians 3:20-21, 1 Peter 1:1). We should know what it is like to live uncomfortably in a land that is really not ours, surrounded by people who do not agree with us, and who may well prove willing to cause us harm (1 Peter 2:19-25, 4:1-6).

There are always “good” worldly reasons to fear and be suspicious of The Other. That’s how Egypt felt toward the Israelites in their midst. That’s how the Romans felt about the Jews and especially about the Christians. Their very differences make them seem strange, alien, “not of us,” and thus a potential threat. Yet, as Israel should have understood the refugee experience from their time in Egypt, so we Christians should understand the refugee experience in our own lives as Kingdom citizens in a “foreign country.” If this world truly is not our home, for our allegiance is elsewhere, we should recognize how we are The Other in the eyes of those in the world, own it, and glorify God in how we treat others!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Declaration of the False Prophet

And it came to pass the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was of Gibeon, spake unto me in the house of YHWH, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying,
“Thus speaketh YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of YHWH’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried to Babylon: and I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went to Babylon, saith YHWH; for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 28:1-4).

When reading the history of Israel it can be very easy to wonder why the Israelites would not listen to the prophets. They warned about upcoming dangers, and those dangers came to pass. Why were they so foolish?

While such a response is understandable we have to be very careful. The history of Israel in the Old Testament is true and told the way God wants it to be told. Yet, and for good reason, much of what was said and done in Israel was not preserved, especially the words of the false prophets. One exception to this is found with Hananiah son of Azzur in Jeremiah 28:1-17, and his example is quite instructive for us.

The context is set in Jeremiah 27:1-22: near the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah and son of Josiah YHWH told Jeremiah to make iron yokes to send to the kings of the neighboring nations with the decree that YHWH was giving all those nations, along with Judah, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (ca. 596-592 BCE; Jeremiah 27:1-6). All those nations were to serve Nebuchadnezzar and his sons or suffer destruction; they should not listen to all the prophets, soothsayers, diviners, or anyone else who would presume to say that they will not have to serve the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 27:7-10). Those who served Nebuchadnezzar would stay in their land (Jeremiah 27:10). Jeremiah brought the same message to Zedekiah king of Judah: serve Nebuchadnezzar, stay in the land, and live, and do not listen to those who prophesy lies and speak falsely (Jeremiah 27:11-15). Jeremiah took the same message to the priests and the people, declaring that all things left in the Temple would also be taken to Babylon, but they would be restored on a later day of YHWH’s visitation (Jeremiah 27:16-22).

Within the same year we hear of Hananiah son of Azzur, called a prophet of Gibeon: he spoke to Jeremiah in the Temple in the presence of all the people (Jeremiah 28:1). His message was exactly what Jeremiah had warned against in Jeremiah 27:11-22: a claim that YHWH has broken the yoke of the king of Babylon, and within two years all those vessels which had been taken out of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in the days of Jehoiachin would be brought back to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 28:2-3; cf. 2 Kings 24:1-16, Daniel 1:1-2). Jeconiah (another name for Jehoiachin) king of Judah would return along with the other captives (Jeremiah 28:3; cf. Daniel 1:1-2). After Jeremiah challenged Hananiah’s legitimacy Hananiah broke the yoke bar Jeremiah was still wearing; YHWH through Jeremiah sharply condemned Hananiah to death for having spoken rebellion (Jeremiah 28:4-16). Within three months Hananiah was dead (Jeremiah 28:17). Two years later nothing much had changed in the geopolitical situation. Within six years Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, Zedekiah had been blinded and carted off to exile, and all that YHWH had spoken through Jeremiah had come to pass (Jeremiah 52:1-27). No doubt remained: YHWH spoke through Jeremiah but did not speak through Hananiah.

We can understand why most of the authors of Scripture do not take up space directly quoting false prophets; their messages proved false and it is better for us to hear the true words spoken by the faithful prophets (2 Peter 1:21). But it is good for us to see Hananiah’s words here as representative of what false prophets would say, why they would be motivated to say it, and why people believed them.

Hindsight, it is said, is 20/20; after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile it is easy to commend Jeremiah and condemn Hananiah. But the people of Judah in 592 BCE did not have that advantage. From their point of view Hananiah’s message was preferable not only politically but theologically as well. They believed YHWH was God of Israel; they believed He dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem. He would not give His glory to another. Had not the mighty Assyrians invaded about a century before and yet YHWH preserved Jerusalem from their grasp (701 BCE; 2 Kings 18:1-19:37)? If YHWH was their God, and He is greater than Marduk and the gods of Babylon, then surely He would preserve Jerusalem yet again. Judah would outlast Babylon as he had Assyria. Yes, the king, Temple furnishings, and the nobility had been exiled, but YHWH would bring them back. That made sense to the people. It was consistent with their expectations. Jeremiah’s message, on the other hand, was precisely not what anyone wanted to hear. Serve a foreign king? Submit to bondage? YHWH would see the rest of the vessels transported in exile to Babylon? The Babylonians would overrun the holy place? Such ideas were deeply offensive to the people of Judah, contrary to everything they believed about themselves, their God, and their land. No wonder they persecuted him and wanted him dead (Jeremiah 26:11-24)!

In the end Jeremiah was vindicated. He would have considered it cold comfort; he was not exactly excited about the prospect of watching the devastation of his people, his land, and the triumph of the pagan enemy. But he understood it was the judgment of YHWH on account of the transgressions and rebellion of the people. Few proved willing to listen to him beforehand; even afterward people questioned his sincerity (Jeremiah 43:1-4). The event was a tragedy all around, the greatest moment of crisis in Israelite history to that day.

Hananiah was not alone. Not a few prophets warn about the influence of false prophets and the suppression of the true message of prophets (Isaiah 29:10, Ezekiel 13:9, Micah 3:5, Zephaniah 3:4). Jesus warned His disciples to be concerned when all men spoke well of them, for thus they did to the false prophets who had come before them (Luke 6:26)! The false prophet’s message sounded better, made more sense, flattered people’s sensibilities, did not demand as much, and instilled complacency among the people. Viewed in that light it is not surprising the people listened to the false prophets. Their message was always easier.

The spirit of prophecy has passed on (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), yet there remain to this day those who speak falsely in the name of God. Their words sound good; they seem to make sense; they flatter people’s political and religious sensibilities; they often instill a sense of complacency. They are just as wrong and just as dangerous as was Hananiah (1 Timothy 4:1-4). Our trust must be in YHWH and in the truth He has revealed in Scripture, and we must test all spirits against that standard (2 Peter 1:20, 1 John 4:1-2). Let us put our trust in God in Christ, test all things, and proclaim His truth, no matter how unpopular!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Cows of Bashan

“Hear this word, ye kine of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy, that say unto their lords, ‘Bring, and let us drink.’
The Lord GOD hath sworn by his holiness, that, lo, the days shall come upon you, that they shall take you away with hooks, and your residue with fish-hooks. And ye shall go out at the breaches, every one straight before her; and ye shall cast yourselves into Harmon,” saith the LORD (Amos 4:1-3).

Amos does not have many kind words for those who were comfortable and wealthy in Israel. The women are no exception.

He begins by calling them “kine,” or cows, of Bashan (Amos 4:1). Bashan is in the northeastern part of Israel across the Jordan, around the Golan area today (cf. Deuteronomy 4:43), and was famous for its pastureland and timber (Jeremiah 50:14, Ezekiel 27:6, 39:18, Micah 7:14). These “cows of Bashan” actually live in Samaria, and so the reference is clearly derogatory: these women are those who “graze” upon the best of the land. It was not a pleasant reference, and it was not meant to be; women have never taken kindly to being compared with cows.

Amos’ accusation is quite specific: these women have oppressed the poor and crushed the needy while demanding more drink from their husbands (Amos 4:1). They enjoy their wealth and prosperity today, but Amos warns them about the days to come when they will be thoroughly humiliated and denigrated: every last one of them will be carried off as exiles (Amos 4:2-3). God has sworn by His holiness that it will take place; it has been firmly decreed; it will not be revoked (Amos 4:2; cf. Hebrews 6:13). Within 50 years of Amos’ prediction, it did come to pass: Assyria overran Israel, and its inhabitants were exiled to Assyria (2 Kings 17:1-41).

We do well to reflect a moment about Amos’ condemnation of the noblewomen of Samaria. He accuses them of oppressing the poor and crushing the needy, and yet it is hard to imagine that any of these women were ever out on the streets actively harming the poor or needy. They would not have engaged in business dealings, court bribery, adaptation of laws to benefit the rich and further impoverishing the poor, or other such behaviors promoting injustice and oppression. Their husbands were the ones doing so! But what was at least part of the reason behind why their husbands, the lords and nobles of Israel, behaved this way? They had the lifestyles of their wives to support; they continually demanded food, drink, and other luxurious items. Their lifestyle was supported on the backs of the poor and needy among them, and so they fall under the same condemnation as their husbands. They stand condemned for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy because they were indirect “beneficiaries” of the proceeds which came as a result of those behaviors.

Most people today are not actively, consciously, and deliberately going out to oppress the poor and crush the needy. Even if we do pass by a lot of homeless people, we might give a little something to a few that seem worthy. Most people give at least a little something to charity, even if it is some promotion at the grocery store or large retailer. Therefore, it would be very easy for most people to not take the charge of oppressing the poor or crushing the needy very seriously.

Yet Amos and his condemnation of the “cows of Bashan,” the noblewomen of Samaria, should give us pause. God does not condemn only those who actively work to oppress the poor and crush the needy, but also those who benefit or have their lifestyles financed by the oppression of the poor and the crushing of the needy! As in Israel, many times government is used by some to reinforce their advantage against others; in some cases, those whose family, friends, or tribe make up the government get the advantages to the detriment of everyone else. Yet this is not just a problem in other places: how much of our lifestyle is subsidized by cheap labor in other places? Workers in other countries are subjected to horrendous, often inhumane conditions, in order to make the products we buy at prices we feel comfortable paying. Their wages would never make it in America, and often barely make it where they live; some are imprisoned and making such products in forced labor camps; meanwhile, how many Americans have lost jobs and find themselves impoverished because their jobs were shipped overseas on account of lower labor costs? With every product there is a cost; the constant pursuit of lower prices hurts people in plenty of places. Multinational corporations exploit legal loopholes and often participate in illegal behavior if it produces sufficient profit; the stock price may go up, but people are harmed in the process. How many times have some governments or companies extracted minerals or other valuable commodities from the land, share the profits with themselves and their owners and shareholders, and disband or look away when it becomes clear that there are lots of environmental costs which are now passed along to the inhabitants of the area? Some people over the short-term made some money; generations living on that land may suffer the consequences.

The noblewomen of Samaria stood condemned for oppressing the poor and crushing the needy even though it was their husbands who actively engaged in that behavior. Their condemnation was secured because they were the beneficiaries of the immoral and unjust behavior. God judged them speedily; they did not escape. We live in a different time and under a different covenant, but God has no less concern for the poor, disadvantaged, and needy (Matthew 25:31-46, James 2:1-7, 5:1-6). If we indirectly benefit from oppressive behavior, will we escape the same punishment? Let us stand against oppression and injustice in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, and seek the welfare of all people, near and far, and live in such a way that our lifestyles are not sustained to the detriment of the poor or needy in the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Theology While Suffering

Thou, O LORD, abidest for ever; Thy throne is from generation to generation. Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, And forsake us so long time? Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; Renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us; Thou art very wroth against us (Lamentations 5:19-22).

The impact of the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple by the Babylonians, along with the exile to Babylon, upon the people of God can hardly be overstated. These events would completely rattle every aspect of the common theology and worldview of the day. In the ancient Near East, blessings and conquest meant your god was happy with you; plagues and defeat meant your god was angry with you. And yet here Judah experiences plague, pestilence, violence, complete devastation, and even exile, which to many would have meant as much a separation from the god of their land as much as it mean separation from their country. Formerly, even when things looked bad, the Temple of YHWH in Jerusalem remained; now, even that was gone. The complete humiliation of Judah posed major theological challenges: if YHWH is the God of Israel, how could YHWH allow these things to happen? Was YHWH powerless against the Babylonians and their god Marduk? If YHWH is punishing us, why does He do so in ways that give the other nations reason to blaspheme His name and thoroughly disrespect Him? How can YHWH be our God and care for us when we have been brought so very low?

God provided a lot of warnings to the people beforehand through the prophets; God would again speak to the people to comfort and encourage them after the events took place. There is less written from and about those actually experiencing the event and its immediate aftermath: some of the psalms seem to come from this period (e.g. Psalm 44), and we get some indication of events from the book of Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 39:1-44:30). Yet it is the voice of Lamentations which provides a moving and visceral response to these tragic events. The author of Lamentations describes what happens, and understands why the tragedy was necessary. Nevertheless, the author wrestles with the pain, suffering, misery, and the question of God’s presence and concern for His people.

The book of Lamentations is a masterpiece. Its author, over its first four chapters, expresses the pain, anguish, and distress of Jerusalem and its people, and does so using acrostic patterns (each verse or couplet of verses begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet). Yet it is in the fifth chapter that the author breaks out of the convention and pours out his soul before God. He pleads for God to see their reproach and describes their humiliation (Lamentations 5:1-18). Yet, in all this, he remains convinced of God’s existence and authority (Lamentations 5:19). He wants to know for how long YHWH will continue to turn away from His people and abandon them to their humiliation; he asks YHWH to turn back to His people so His people will turn back to Him and all may be renewed (Lamentations 5:20-21). The author recognizes the present distress, and concludes with his understanding of the situation: YHWH has rejected His people and remains angry with them (Lamentations 5:22).

It comes as no surprise that Lamentations is not one of the more popular books of the Bible: it is not a happy book. Lamentations is full of the types of things which we humans generally seek to avoid: pain, distress, misery, suffering, and the attempt to try to make some sense out of why it happened and where God is in the midst of the pain. We know that there might be a time when we might experience something of the sort, but we certainly do not look forward to it. We would rather continue to live as we are living, seek to focus on the happier parts of life, hope we avoid as much suffering as we can, and trust that if suffering comes we will somehow find a way through it.

But then moments of suffering come. Perhaps we will be fortunate and be able to endure them without too much distress. But what will become of us if we experience a time of intense suffering far beyond anything we might have imagined? Doubts and fears will arise. Hope might be extinguished; despair may turn to cynicism. The confidence held in one’s view of God and how one looks at the world might be strongly shaken. Many in such a condition, even if they recover physically, never do so emotionally and spiritually.

This is why it is important to understand the value of strong theology even in the midst of suffering, or perhaps even on account of suffering. We can see this from the author of Lamentations. He has seen and experienced terrible evils which most of us can only imagine with dread and terror, terrible things done by the pagan nations against the people of God, and yet his faith is firm and resolute. He recognizes that God remains sovereign and in control. He has perceived that God is angry with His people and punished them and he does not seek to find fault with God because of it. He is able to maintain the hope that God will turn back toward His people and renew them as of old.

When we do not maintain that strong theology while suffering, we will be tempted to fall away. The same distress which the author of Lamentations rightly understands to be God’s chastening is understood by others as the consequence of turning away from the Queen of Heaven (cf. Jeremiah 44:15-19). While many Jews remained faithful to God in Babylon, we will never know how many others could not handle all the distress and pain and the challenge to their worldview and just assimilated into Babylonian culture, assuming that since the Babylonians were successful, their gods and perspective were clearly right, and their former belief in YHWH was wrong. Such people have been made invisible historically, no doubt swept up in every successive change of empire and belief in Mesopotamia. They attached themselves to the way of the world; their fate will be as the world.

Times of suffering will come. Our faith will be tested as through fire (1 Peter 1:3-9). Perhaps our sufferings will be manifestations of God’s discipline (cf. Hebrews 12:4-11). Perhaps our suffering will come on account of our trust in God in Christ (cf. Luke 6:22-23). Or maybe our suffering will not come with an explicit reason; it will just be. That suffering may be so severe as to shake our confidence in everything which we used to believe was true. How will we respond to such distress and calamity? Will we be able to maintain our confidence in God and His goodness toward His people? Will we find a way to maintain our hope despite our distress and pain? At that time we will perhaps gain a better appreciation for the message of Lamentations, and seek to take refuge in the same hope which sustained the author of Lamentations even when it seemed that there was no hope left. Let us stand firm in God and trust in Him in good times and in bad, when suffering or well, and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Autumn of Covenant

Thus the Lord GOD showed me: and, behold, a basket of summer fruit.
And he said, “Amos, what seest thou?”
And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”
Then said the LORD unto me, “The end is come upon my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more” (Amos 8:1-2).

“Woe is me! For I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape gleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat; my soul desireth the first-ripe fig” (Micah 7:1).

Autumn is a season of transition. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, days grow shorter, nights grow longer, and the temperature gets cooler. The days of heat and growth are declining, and the last crops must be harvested. Everywhere around us, life is preparing for the cold, dark winter that will soon come.

The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were also in the “autumn” of their existence in the late ninth and eighth centuries BCE. Unbeknownst to them, their days of glory were behind them. The kingdoms were experiencing a momentary period of great prosperity and wealth, not unlike a short warm spell during the autumn. Yet the cold, dark days of “winter”– collapse and exile– were approaching, and the prophets were busy warning the people.

God shows Amos a basket of summer fruit, representing the imminent end of Israel. They had enjoyed their days of prosperity and wealth– they always were more prosperous than the Judeans to their south– but had squandered it all on idols and political alliances. The people of Israel acted shamefully and sinfully, committing all kinds of injustice and sin, and God sent Amos to pronounce judgment. The people refused to hear, and within forty years of Amos’ predictions, Israel was overwhelmed by Assyria and would soon be exiled, never to return (cf. 2 Kings 17).

Not long after Amos goes to Israel, Micah prophesies against Judah. The prophet acutely feels the vast sinfulness and injustice swirling around him. He feels as if he is part of the grape gleanings on the vine after the harvests of the summer fruits– the very few who still stand for righteousness and justice. Everyone around him, it seems, is out for their own advantage, full of iniquity and blood. Yet Micah trusts in the LORD, knowing that destruction and judgment will come soon (cf. Micah 7:7). Likewise, within forty years, the Assyrians came to Judah, destroying everything but Jerusalem, leaving but a remnant of Judah to remain (cf. 2 Kings 18-19, Isaiah 1).

Both Israel and Judah, therefore, were in the “autumn” of their covenants with God. Destruction would come upon them soon, and yet they willfully turned a deaf ear to the warnings of the prophets. They trusted that since the LORD was the One True God, and that Israel was His chosen people, that no harm would befall them (cf. Micah 2:6). Yet God would not tolerate their sin forever, and Israel and Judah paid a heavy price!

What about us? Are we in the “autumn” of our lives, or in the “autumn” of our relationship with God? While the actual season of autumn is easily delineated and clearly a time of preparation, our “spiritual” season of autumn may not be as easily apparent. We may feel as if we are in the “spring” or “summer” of our lives or in our relationship with God, when, in fact, the end is near.

Let none be deceived: God will not tolerate sin forever. If we are living in sin and turning a deaf ear to the Word of God who convicts us regarding sin (cf. John 16:8), we may suffer the same fate as Israel and Judah, and have destruction fall upon us unawares (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). Since we can never be entirely sure when the “autumn” of our lives has begun, we must live in a constant state of preparedness, as our Lord Jesus affirms for us in Matthew 24:42-25:30, and Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10.

We may be living in a debauched and sinful society, and its “autumn” may be present. Nevertheless, let us live our lives as the prophet Micah, constantly trusting in the LORD no matter what our fellow man may say and do, and show constant vigilance, ever prepared for the return of Jesus Christ and the end of time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Queen of Heaven

“As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the LORD, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly perform every word that is gone forth out of our mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink-offerings unto her, as we have done, we and our fathers, our kings and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off burning incense to the queen of heaven, and pouring out drink-offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine” (Jeremiah 44:16-18).

The fateful day of reckoning had come and passed, and the people of Judah were left to sort out what happened. Their land was taken; their city destroyed; the Temple of YHWH obliterated. How could this have happened? Where was God in all of this?

Most of the Judeans were taken into exile to Babylon, but some were left in the land. After more misfortune, they decide, against God’s will, to go to Egypt. There many again serve the “Queen of Heaven,” among other gods and goddesses. After all, their reasoning went, life was good in Judah when they served the Queen of Heaven. It was when Hezekiah and Josiah interrupted that service that everything turned for the worse! Thus, they reasoned, there was no point in obeying the word of the LORD.

Their logic may be understandable, but that does not make it right. Notice that the “Queen of Heaven” did not tell them any of this; instead, they are reasoning based only on what they perceive. Meanwhile, Jeremiah is speaking directly from God, not only condemning their current deeds, but making it clear that this disaster did not come without sufficient warning. God made it very clear through the prophets that Jerusalem would be destroyed and the people exiled if they did not change their ways (Jeremiah 44:1-14). The people do not deny any of that. But they still justify their wives’ behavior and idolatry!

What ends up happening to these Judeans? We do not know. We do know that those who believed in YHWH and put away their idols were those who returned to the land of Judah, and a large proportion of more idolatrous Judeans simply assimilated into the cultures among whom they were exiled and thus no longer part of the covenant. A sad fate indeed!

These Judeans are not the only ones to experience great trauma and difficulties and left to sort out what it all means. Unfortunately, many maintain a hardened heart toward God throughout the process, and latch on to whatever reasoning exists that justifies their continued behavior. The reasoning might even make sense. But does that make the reasoning right?

While we cannot and should not say that all difficulties and sufferings that we experience mean that God is punishing us, we are to remember God throughout the process, and realize that it is not within ourselves to direct our own steps, and that we are not sufficient in and of ourselves (cf. Jeremiah 10:23). When God does discipline us, we ought to endure it for our own good (Hebrews 12:3-11). Will we have the faith to turn to God regardless of our circumstances, believing that they will all work out for good somehow (Romans 8:28)? Or will we try to find some way to justify our God-dishonoring behaviors to our own hurt? Let us listen to God’s message and live!

Ethan R. Longhenry