Mourning and Loving Enemies

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 15.5
 5 My heart cries out over Moab; 
her fugitives flee as far as Zoar, 
as far as Eglath Shelishiyah. 
They go up the hill to Luhith, 
weeping as they go; 
on the road to Horonaim 
they lament their destruction.

Reflection: Mourning and Loving Enemies
By John Tillman

Moab was Israel’s enemy. God brought judgment on Moab, yet mourned for their suffering.

Moab was not an enemy because of who they were but because of what they did. Moab had close family ties to Israel. They descended from Abraham’s nephew, Lot. They had even closer ties to the Davidic kings. Ruth, the Moabitess, was David’s great-grandmother.

Despite being relatives, the Moabites were judged for multiple reasons. Throughout their history, they violently oppressed Israel when they were vulnerable. They also led Israel to sinful idolatry and worship practices that included sexual acts and human sacrifice.

A few examples include Balak, king of Moab, who recruited the false prophet, Balaam, to entice Israel to sin, (Numbers 31.16; Revelation 2.14) Eglon, king of Moab who ruled over Israel for 18 years until he was killed by Ehud, (Judges 3.13-14, 20-21) and a Moabite king who, when threatened by an Israelite attack, sacrificed his first-born son on the wall of his city begging his god to turn back Israel. (2 Kings 3.26-27)
Those led into sin included Solomon, who built a temple to Chemosh, the Moabite deity after building the Lord’s temple. (1 Kings 11.7)

Very few of us will ever face enemies of our faith that threaten us with physical or military violence. Very few will ever face true religious persecution for our faith. But how many of us are looking to the power of the state to enforce our beliefs rather than the power of the gospel to spread them?

Very few of us will be tempted to build a literal temple to a false god next to our churches. But how many of us have temples in our hearts devoted to worldly beliefs, politics, or ideas? What altars are in our hearts?

The Moabites were a real danger to the Israelites, both physically/militarily and religiously/ideologically. Yet, they were also family. God mourned the suffering of these violent and vitriolic enemies of Israel and commanded Jerusalem to be a sanctuary for Moabite refugees. (Isaiah 16.4)

It is dangerous to call other humans “enemies” even if they are truly dangerous. Paul says our enemies are not flesh and blood. It is better that we remember that we were formerly enemies of God, reconciled in Jesus. If God did this for the Moabites and Jesus does this for us, how can we do anything less for those we think of as enemies?

Let us mourn our enemies’ situation and shelter them in their suffering.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of the ram’s horn.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is king of all the earth; sing praises with all your skill.
God reigns over the nation; God sits upon his holy throne. — Psalm 47.5-8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 15 (Listen 1:34)
Acts 4 (Listen 5:15)

Read more about Solomon’s Cheating Heart
Solomon was a temple builder but he did not only build temples for Yaweh. He built temples for the very gods that Israel has been warned about.

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Taunting Ourselves

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 14.3, 26-27
3 On the day the Lord gives you relief from your suffering and turmoil and from the harsh labor forced on you, 4 you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: 
How the oppressor has come to an end! 
How his fury has ended! 

26 This is the plan determined for the whole world; 
this is the hand stretched out over all nations. 
27 For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? 
His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? 

Reflection: Taunting Ourselves
By John Tillman

God promises those who suffer under oppression that one day he will turn the tables and they will taunt those who harmed them.

Isaiah taunts specific oppressors such as Babylon, Assyria, and the Philistines. God expands these taunts to include the whole world—any nation taking up the spirit of Babylon. There are still nations of this kind today and some of us may live in them. We should be careful not to take up Isaiah’s taunts too quickly—we may end up taunting ourselves.

Babylon considered itself the ultimate pinnacle of human achievement. They felt they deserved to wield ultimate power because of their ultimate enlightenment. They considered themselves the light of the world and a provider of peace. Babylonian exceptionalism was part of their core belief system.

Babylon’s utopian self-concept was a lie. Their definition of peace was murdering anyone who resisted them. Their definition of achievement was enslaving the smartest people from other nations and re-educating them to serve the empire. Their definition of light was snuffing out the gods of other nations and absorbing them.

In the Bible, Babylon is both a literal kingdom and a figurative representation of all human opposition to God. When God said, “I will wipe out Babylon’s name and survivors, her offspring and descendants,” he wasn’t speaking literally of human offspring. He spoke of nations who would follow the spirit of Babylon, to succeed her, ascend her throne, and continue her prideful destruction of the weak. 

Babylon’s highest value is ultimate autonomy and unrestricted freedom—at least for the powerful. Many pursue ultimate autonomy today as well. The dirty little secret of ultimate autonomy is that it only exists for those willing to take it by force or those privileged enough to have it handed to them.

The spirit of Babylon is not only adopted by nations or people groups. Individuals adopt it too. Has the spirit of Babylon taken over any part of our hearts?

Babylon disdains God’s demands for righteousness and justice.
Babylon rejects God’s definitions of sin and holiness.
Babylon honors the brutal and brutalizes the gentle.
Babylon protects the powerful rather than the weak. 
Babylon uses freedom to harm others.

One day we will taunt Babylon, but first, we must come out from among her. Let us root out Babylon’s influences in our own lives and hearts.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Wait upon the Lord and keep his way; he will raise you up to possess the land, and when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.
I have seen the wicked in their arrogance, flourishing like a tree in full leaf.
I went by, and behold, they were not there; I searched for them, but they could not be found.
Mark those who are honest; observe the upright; for there is a future for the peaceable.
Transgressors shall be destroyed, one and all; the future of the wicked is cut off.
But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord will help them and rescue them; he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them, because they seek refuge in him. — Psalm 37.36-42

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 14 (Listen 5:04)
Acts 3 (Listen 3:33)

Read more about Waiting at the Beautiful Gate
Jesus didn’t give us the Holy Spirit for warm, fuzzy feelings in our sanctuaries. The Holy Spirit is given to us to heal

Read more about The Fall of a Superpower
Babylon embraced idolatry and morality that was contrary to the law of God…it’s important to realize we share in the same sinful nature

Shocking Prayers and Promises

Scripture Focus: Psalm 109.6-8
6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand. 
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. 
8 May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.

Reflection: Shocking Prayers and Promises
By John Tillman

You’ll probably never hear Psalm 109 or other imprecatory psalms read in church. The condemnations are harsh. The cries for violent retribution are unsettling. Is this praying or cursing?

When the suffering cry out, they don’t consider the feelings of those listening. They chuck civility and cordiality out the window. They employ emotional language and evocative metaphors. They abandon the vocabulary of propriety and politeness. They may even go beyond cursing to “cussing.”

Imagine yourself standing in front of someone shouting out the curses and demands of this psalm…

If you are like me, you probably picture yourself giving one of two responses: disengagement or discouragement. You want to get away from them or tell them to calm down.

“Be respectful.” “Ask nicely and I’ll listen.” “I can’t be around you when you are like this.”

God responds differently. God turns his ear to them. God leans closer. God joins them in their suffering. God’s face looks on them with compassion. God’s hands lift them up and punish their oppressors.

We are not God. We are incapable of his level of listening, patience, empathy, and compassion.

When people protest loudly, we say, “Be quiet.” When they protest at inconvenient times, we say, “Not now.” When they protest in our faces, we say, “Back off.” When they protest in our spaces, we say, “Get out.”

We are also powerless to enact the fullness of God’s justice and righteousness.

There are problems we cannot comprehend. There are oppressors we cannot correct. There are powers we cannot oppose. There are wrongs we cannot make right.

We can, however, lean on the listening, patient, empathetic, compassionate heart of God revealed in scripture. We can work for the problem-solving, corrective, overcoming, good-creating justice and righteousness revealed in scripture. That is what the psalmist is doing.

The psalmist’s cry, “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow,” (Psalm 109.9) echoes a promise of God from Exodus 22.24 and Jeremiah 18.21. It is God who promised to punish those who harm the vulnerable. We can pray shocking prayers.

Are you hesitant to hear out the hurting?
When the suffering won’t be silent, do you shut your ears?
When the abused are red-faced with anger and shame, do you turn your face away?
When the oppressed open their mouths with curses, do you open the door and leave?

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. — Psalm 85.10

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah 10.5-34 (Listen 5:14)
Psalm 106 (Listen 4:52)

​This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah  11-12 (Listen 3:39), Acts 1 (Listen 3:5802)
Isaiah  13 (Listen 3:11), Acts 2 (Listen 6:35)

Read more about An Imprecatory Psalm for Mass Shootings
I went to church…As normal, I paused to think about what I should do in case of a shooting…This shouldn’t be normal.

Read more about Wartime Prayers
Imprecatory prayers become expressions of trust in God our Father…not only powerful but…just and loving.

Evil, Judgment, or Discipline?

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 9.12b
12 …Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.

Reflection: Evil, Judgment, or Discipline?
By John Tillman

Bad things were happening to Judah. Why?

Three times in this chapter, Isaiah repeats, “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” (Isaiah 5.25; 9.12, 17, 21; 10.4

Sometimes “bad things” happen simply because evil exists. Stephen King, who has spent a lifetime writing about evil, put it this way in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, “The world has teeth and it can bite you with them any time it wants.”

Sometimes bad things happen as part of God’s judgment. Individuals or groups, by action or inaction, spurn God’s calls for justice, and as Johnny Cash sang, “You can run on for a long time…sooner or later, God’ll cut you down.”

Sometimes bad things happen as part of God’s discipline. Discipline is not “pleasant,” scripture says, but is not intended for harm. Where judgment destroys evil, discipline attempts to turn us from it. Discipline proves that we are loved by God and he intends good things for us.

God’s hand of blessing and protection was lifted from Judah, allowing great suffering, but no matter how bad it got, the people still wouldn’t return to God. They’d do anything other than repent. Anything other than helping the hurting. Anything other than admitting complicity in suffering. Anything other than walking humbly, loving mercy, or acting justly.

Some explain bad things happening saying, “We are being judged because of those sinners over there!” However, Israel’s prophets never say, “This drought is because of those sinful Moabites.” Judgment begins in the house of the Lord.

We need to pause and consider what kind of suffering we are enduring. Are we simply facing an evil world? Are we being judged? Are we being disciplined? Is God’s hand upraised against us?

If we are suffering for doing good, let us rejoice. (1 Peter 3.13-17) In suffering of this kind, God is our comforter and partner.

If we are suffering for resisting evil, let us endure. However, let us not turn to evil means of survival, but rather overcome evil with good.

If we are suffering for sins of commission or omission, for our apathy toward or complicity in the suffering of others, let us repent. For God longs to lead us back to himself. His raised hand of discipline will lower to wipe our tears and “there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” (Isaiah 9.1)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me. — Psalm 69.7

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah  9.8-10.4 (Listen 8:50)
Psalm 105 (Listen 4:02)

Read more about Different Kind of Exile
Peter encourages his exiles not to allow the oppression and suffering they are going through to be something that crushes their faith.

Read more about The Wrong Fear
This is how people act when they are living in fear. But this is not the reverent fear of the Lord that Peter speaks of.

Conspiracy Theology

Scripture Focus: Isaiah 8:12, 19-20
12 “Do not call conspiracy
    everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
    and do not dread it.
19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 

Reflection: Conspiracy Theology
By Erin Newton

“Trust no one” is the mantra for our day. We have seen the news turn from a daily source of information to headlines judged for signs of misinformation. As a kid, I was thrilled to hear the screeching tones of AOL dial-up internet. Search engines meant access to facts. Now, we question who is behind each website and even squint to count the number of fingers on a possible AI-generated image.

Who can we trust? Where can we go for answers?

The dawn of social media and artificial intelligence did not create a novel threat—it merely reshaped the old struggle to gauge the trustworthiness of our sources.

For Isaiah, the call to avoid untrustworthy sources meant telling the people to avoid “mediums” and “spiritists”—not our modern warning to avoid “that random post by the username GodLovesOnlyMe38128” or the person behind the pulpit who seems to be selling something. Both the ancient medium and the modern internet troll rely on spewing words that stir up our fear.

The warnings in Isaiah are eerily relevant. God told the prophet to distinguish the work of his hand from purported conspiracy, a word that has been tossed around more frequently today. Conspiracy drives fear and feeds a sense of dread. Conspiracy is easier to manage than divine judgment because people are responsible for conspiracies and can be controlled—or so Isaiah’s community thought.

The conspiracy here is unnamed but could be anything such as political upheavals among the divided kingdom or foreign affairs with the Assyrians or Babylonians. We know that religious practices were corrupted, and the prophets were apt to call them out. Jeremiah was accused of conspiracy when he dared to call out the sin of religious leaders. Whatever crisis plagued the people, they were quick to label it a conspiracy rather than divine judgment.

God rebukes foolishness that confuses divine justice with mortal conspiracy. Such foolishness is like consulting a corpse for advice. If you want answers, don’t go to the cemetery. If you need guidance, don’t consult those who use spirituality for a fee.

The place to find trustworthy answers is with God himself. We have his word, passed down through centuries—studied and analyzed more than any piece of writing on this earth. We have access to his Spirit, who dwells within us—the Word itself abides with us. Consult these things, not the voices that bank on your anxiety.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Happy are those who act with justice and always do right! — Psalm 106.3

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Isaiah  8-9.7 (Listen 3:26)
Psalm 104 (Listen 3:37)

Read more about Absurd Little Bird
Many Birds Aren’t Real participants acted out of frustration with friends and family captivated by Qanon and other absurd conspiracy theories.

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