November 15, 2013

Where Do We Turn When It All Falls Down?

In the Bible we are shown at least five examples of either poor architecture or substantial force applied to architecture or buildings to make them collapse. Regardless of the plans used to build the buildings mentioned herein, God’s sovereign plans deftly outmaneuver any man-made ones. God’s plans are the substrate for history and intrinsic to people’s salvation at a universal (plenary) level. This is critical for Christians to understand if they wish to truly understand their God. Gods ways are not our ways...even when or especially when they undo man’s planned edifices. This includes both the physical ones (buildings) or the mental constructs (ideas, philosophies).

This is clearly outlined and illustrated in Psalms 2 which gives a good God-centered perspective for interpreting world events.

Psalm 2:1-6 ~ Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”

Ephesians then shows the significance of the Lord's predestined will in man's life...

Ephesians 2:4-6 ~ For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…

Ephesians 2:11-13 ~ “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.

So moving to the primary focus of this post in Judges we see the destruction or collapse of two buildings. First we see Gideon beat down the tower of Penuel

Judges 8:17 ~ “He [Gideon] tore down the tower of Penuel and killed the men of the city.”

In this incident we see the completion of the deliverance of the Lord’s people. Gideon strips the men of Penuel of the thing they prided themselves most in…their tower. They are then stripped of their lives. It is a day in which their transgressions are repaid them. It is inevitable, if you are destined for judgment by God you will receive it. Those of Succoth and Penuel had been cruel to Gideon and his 300 men. The men of Penuel refused to give bread to Gideon and his men when they were in pursuit of the Midianites (Judges 8:1-21). Upon his return after the pursuit, Gideon tore down the tower there and killed all the men of the city. Justice comes to all from a just God. In this case it comes from Gideon. Gideon makes good on a previous threat (Judges 8:9) and proceeds to destroy their defensive tower. I suggest that Gideon may have acted excessively in killing the men of Penuel and possibly moved beyond the intent of God in a vendetta type manner. Succoth’s men had been tortured but there was little justification for killing fellow Israelites in Penuel. It sounds like a grudge.

Later in Judges, Samson knocked out the two main pillars of a large building and caused it to fall, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Philistines and of Samson himself. So not only is this a case of a collapsing structure it is also an account of a suicide.

Judges 16:23-30 ~ “Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God, that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes.” Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and braced himself against them, the one with his right hand and the other with his left. And Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” And he bent with all his might so that the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he killed in his life.

Wine and drinking usually led to drunken sexual debauchery. In this incident it leads to a sadistic form of humiliation of one of God’s judges. God will not be mocked nor his name defamed. Many of Samson’s hardships had been of his own doing and some punishment or chastising may have been justified or deserved. Defamation of God's holy name is not justifiable and punishment ensues. Had the mockery not crossed over to include sacrifice to Dagon, this may have ended differently but because it is in the same context as worship to a false god things turn dark and brooding in this narrative.

“Our god has given Samson our enemy into our hands.”

The implication is that their god has given them Samson. They are essentially implying that this false deity has trumped the true God by allowing the capture and subjugation of their power foe Samson. To falsely attribute God’s sovereignty and providence to that of a nothingness is one of the worst forms of idolatry. It is no different that attributing the works and miracles of Jesus to Beelzebub. The Hebrew word to “make sport” further exacerbates this issue. They are literally laughing at or deriding one of God’s judges (therefore God). He is literally treated like a flawed twisted version of a freak show strongman who has lost his strength (or so they thought). This can never end well and God draws the line here because the mockery bleeds over to God himself. He works through Samson’s request and destroys thousands of Philistines in Samson’s final act of judgment. Those not killed in the initial collapse would’ve certainly been killed in the ensuing crush of people that forms in a panic when people flee for exits or evacuate. In both cases, people are crushed to death.

It is also interesting to note that while the Philistines are in “full mockery mode”, Samson is in “full reverence mode.” He prays to God for the strength to carry out this last act of judgment in verse 28. In so doing he offers heady veneration to God by referring to God not only as Yahweh (God's holy Covenant name) but also Elohim (one true God [plural]) and Adonai (my Lord).

There is then the unfortunate account of Job’s family that meet their end through the Devil’s nefarious actions. Job's sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother's house and a great wind strikes the house causing it to collapse.

Job 1:18-19 ~ “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”

First there is a theft of oxen and donkeys then fire. Then there is another theft this time of camels and a storm which results in death of Job’s children. These calamities are reported to Job in quick succession and he is offered no reprieve and no respite from the onslaught of bad news. The shock is so great he mourns for a week without a word. The first and third catastrophes were human in origin and the second and fourth were natural. All can be viewed as simultaneously issuing forth from a spiritual source also (Satan). We do not see a duality here, we see a simultaneity or concurrence.

We must realize that all the things lost here were replaceable except the lives of the people. Being a gift from God, they are not really Jobs but rather God's. When God calls His people home is God’s choice not ours. We are merely stewards of their lives for a few years in youth. But, if we think in an eschatological (end times) manner…people sort of are replaceable in the respect that they will be seen again if they were righteous and believed in the promises of God.

Jobs response to these tragedies is the high point of the entire book of Job. "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away". All things are His, even the lives of our children. We should never cling so tightly to things of this world that the trump what God is trying to show us in our own walk to salvation through Him. When we cling too tightly to the world and release our grip on God we lose sight of the big picture in our nearsightedness and forget we have the potential of all being together again with Christ anyway. The paradox is that we cannot remove God from the center of our lives and still reach our eternal destination intended for us in Heaven. To be with God in eternity we need to be with Him now. As Paul said in Colossians 3…

Colossians 3:1-5 ~ “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

In Jesus’ parable of the foolish man’s house we see the man builds his house on sand and it subsequently collapses when battered by rain, floods, and wind.

Matthew 7:26-27 ~ “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

This is a no-brainer. It is another parable of the Kingdom in human terms. Two men. One builds on a firm foundation, the other is a dope and builds on sand. The point? Build on a firm foundation. Some hear the Gospel and do, some hear the Gospel and don’t do. It is all in the hearer’s response. One man represents a true and practical response to the Gospel and the other is a superficial faithfulness. The true faithful response results in a fruit that is solid and sturdy. The other is a weak and worthless response. One will withstand the ultimate test of God’s judgment (here described as flood) but the faith of the other will collapse. The thing that holds up the true faithfulness is that of a God-given / God-based foundation based in the word of God and God Himself. We are to trust in Him and the sign of doing so is to internalize His word and act on it. It is exactly as James tells us in his epistle.

James 2:17 ~ “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Finally, we see that eighteen people died when the tower of Siloam fell on them.

Luke 13:4 ~ “Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

This passage mentions two tragedies that re attributed to God’s punishment. One is an atrocity Pilate ordered among the Jews. Pilate had misappropriated money from the Temple treasury to finance an aqueduct. This angered many Jews who created a large crowd in protest (a mob).  Being politically ignorant and insensitive to Jewish religious convictions, he had soldiers dressed as civilians mingle with the Jewish mob and using concealed weapons murdered unarmed Jews. Being as popular as He was, Jesus’ words would’ve reached Jerusalem before He did. If he bad-mouthed Rome, he jeopardized his ministry by siding with what amounted to a revolt. If he ignored the issue, the crowds following Him would turn against Him prematurely before the proper time. As he did in many cases, he turns the table on His circumstances and people that would have otherwise hemmed Him into a corner. Jesus moves the whole issue to a much higher spiritual level…therefore a more important context. Instead of focusing on Pilate’s sins, Jesus focuses on the sins of those questioning Him and the sin’s effects. He does the same in the context of the collapsing tower of Siloam.

One needs to ask themselves something about this passage. Where is Jesus’ focus and primary concern? Is it on the mingling of the blood? Is it on who was a greater sinner? Is it on the collapsed tower? No to all. Jesus’ concern is clear and stated twice for emphasis. He is not so much concerned with Roman improprieties, the greatness of sins or even the physical collapse of a tower. God’s judgment is inevitable as all men are sinners worthy of judgment. The issue is one of judgment and whether a person takes on the punishment themselves for their sin or whether they give it over to Christ/God. If a person does not repent, they will invariably take the full brunt of God’s wrath come judgment day and it will be taken on eternally. If they divest themselves of this sin by accepting Jesus and His atoning work and His promises of salvation, they will be forgiven the wrath to come.  

Jesus is therefore concerned about whether or not someone has repented, not who is to blame for the tragedies. It is mentioned in verses three and four. If there is anything I’ve learned about the Bible, it is this: If Jesus says something is of supreme importance. Repentance and turning to God is the route of salvation. To repent is to acknowledge you are wrong and to accept God is correct. If He is correct, than anything He has revealed is to be believed and understood also. This means the Crucifixion and Resurrection as outlined in His revealed word. Death and punishment will come to us all. The real issue is this: Who do you want to take the punishment that you deserve? Jesus or you? You are given a choice.

Secondly, Jesus shows that human tragedies are not always divine punishments and it is wrong for us to assume so. Sometimes things happen as the cause and effect of a fallen world. By deciding what is and isn’t God’s punishment in specific instances by our measure…we end up in an unhealthy situation of playing God. We see this in ministries everywhere nowadays. People claiming war is the specific punishment for acceptance of homosexual marriage in the US, Hurricanes leveling cities as punishment for the same, the Twin Towers in New York was punishment for a myriad of other national indiscretions, etc. The list is endless.

As today, so yesterday. The tower of Siloam may or may not have been an isolated incident. That is not the point. Is it possible they’re punishments? Of course, but we are not to definitively say so on an individual basis since we neither know the mind of God nor are we omniscient like God. Point being: If these are punishments and God could end up punishing other sinners in this manner…does it not befit the sinner (the questioners and us) to repent and seek forgiveness for sin if this could be our possible fate? In truth, unrepentant sinners will receive this type of punishment ad infinitum or eternally of they do not repent.

The question is not: Why did these people die from the collapse of the tower? The question that seriously needs to be asked is: Why haven’t we all been punished already since we are all sinners? What right do we even have to live? The answer is simple: Mercy and Grace. These things are best exemplified by the Son of God nailed to the Cross. The very place we need to turn to. If God is indeed immutable (unchanging) which Scripture speaks to repeatedly (Mal. 3:6, Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Isa. 46:9-11; Ez. 24:14, Ja. 1:17), then there is rock-solid assurance in God's word and therefore His promises in Scripture. This includes the promises that tell us that by accepting the Messiah and the work Christ did on the Cross....there is eternal life.

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