The Divine Warrior (Isaiah 59:15b-21)

The Lord looked and was displeased
    that there was no justice.

He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
    and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
    and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
    and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.
According to what they have done,
    so will he repay
wrath to his enemies
    and retribution to his foes;
    he will repay the islands their due.
From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord,
    and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.
For he will come like a pent-up flood
    that the breath of the Lord drives along.

“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,”
declares the Lord.

“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. (New International Version)

The Lord inhabits a lot of roles as God: Creator and Sustainer, Father and Mother, Helper and Healer, Sovereign and King, Shepherd and Spirit, and much more. In today’s Old Testament lesson, we see God as the Divine Warrior and Redeemer.

Readers of the New Testament will pick up on the warrior language in Isaiah’s prophecy (Ephesians 6:10-20). The Divine Warrior readies for battle by putting on armor: a breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. The Lord prepares to intervene, to make war on injustice, because there are no earthly human warriors willing to eradicate unrighteousness, redeem the oppressed, and establish deliverance for the needy.

The “bystander effect,” or “bystander apathy,” is a social psychology term that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. In experiment after experiment over the past fifty years, social psychologists have found that the more bystanders there are, the less likely any one of them will help. 

For example, researchers Bibb Latané and Judith Rodin staged an experiment in 1969 around a woman in distress. 70% of the people who were alone called out or went to help the woman after they believed she had fallen and was hurt. Yet, when there were other people around, only 40% offered help.

The social psychologists found that individuals find it far too easy to stand with their hands in their pockets, whenever there are other people around that could help and do what is right and just. 

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV)

The Lord noticed that justice had disappeared. God was plenty displeased with the lack of justice – and became downright disgusted when no one was doing anything about it. 

“Rationalization is a process not of perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotions.”

Ayn Rand

The rationalizations for not becoming involved and avoiding the work of justice in the world are legion: 

  • “Someone else can do it better than me.” 
  • “But what if I screw up?”
  • “I don’t have time for this.”
  • “How could I possibly make any difference?”
  • “That’s not my job.”
  • “They made their own bed, now they can sleep in it.”
  • “I don’t know what to do.”

God puts the responsibility for ensuring that everyone has what they need to live and thrive on us. We truly are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

So, let’s come back to the Divine Warrior image in the New Testament. Christians are to take up the armor of God, not only to protect themselves from evil, but also to fight the dark forces that keep people locked in systems of injustice. Read the following text from the perspective of ensuring justice for the common good of all people:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:10-20, NIV)

The under-privileged, the under-represented, the under-served, the disadvantaged, the deprived, the indigent, and many more groups of people exist because of ignorance and apathy toward their needs. Everyone, including you and me, need to own this and not rationalize why we cannot participate.

The prophet Isaiah lets us know that none of us are anonymous; we have all been given gifts as the people of God in order to serve the greater good. 

The Lord dispenses grace and glory primarily through active people who forsake being bystanders and respond to God’s call on their lives. 

Let’s not bring out the Divine Warrior because of our own negligence. Instead, let’s be attentive to justice, righteousness, and redemption. Perhaps then God will get a more positive press in the public square.

God of justice and righteousness, you care about the people of this world receiving the things they need to live and flourish in life. Inspire and empower all of your people, including me, to spread a spirit of service in our local communities, churches, workplaces, and everywhere we live and go, through Jesus Christ our Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Proverbs 2:1-5 – Have Common Sense

My child, you must follow
and treasure my teachings
    and my instructions.
Keep in tune with wisdom
and think what it means
    to have common sense.
Beg as loud as you can
    for good common sense.
Search for wisdom
as you would search for silver
    or hidden treasure.
Then you will understand
what it means to respect
    and to know the Lord God. (Contemporary English Version)

“Common sense is not so common.”

Voltaire

Sometimes it seems as if common-sense has taken a vacation or gone into quarantine.

We may even be in some sort of common-sense crisis or pandemic.

Perhaps we are emoting when we should be thinking. Maybe we’re thinking when we ought to be feeling. It could be we’re doing both or neither. Whatever the heck is going on, it’s a bunch of gobbledygook that isn’t getting us anywhere.

Much to my sadness, many Christians brazenly splash their ignorance across large swaths of social media. It’s not surprising that more and more people want nothing to do with the Church nor Christianity. 

Common sense does not necessarily imply any great quality of mind or intelligence; it’s common, not extraordinary.

We need some sound practical discernment for common everyday matters.

What shall we do?

I propose we liberally inhale the biblical proverbs – because suspicion, gullibility, extreme vitriol, and downright stupidity now characterize vast sections of our world, especially in the so-called intellectual West. In the wise sayings of the Proverbs, we shall find that:

Humility and reverence are the beginning of wisdom.

A teachable spirit is of more value than any amount of money or physical resources.

Developing the life of the mind is of critical importance.

Every good thing in life comes through blood, sweat, and tears – and doesn’t just fall into your lap.

Prayer matters.

Ultimate control belongs to God.

There is peace in being comfortable with mystery.

Knowing God helps us pursue the right questions, rather than always trying to have the right answers.

Becoming more self-aware creates greater awareness of God and others.

Smart choices come from both mental learning and practical action.

The mind can be clouded and untrustworthy, and the heart can be desperately wicked; the gut, however, is always right.

Mentally overthinking and researching things to death can disconnect us from a good old fashioned sage response.

Our own personal view is just that; it isn’t necessarily the best or right perspective.

Feedback, advice, consultation, and collaboration are necessary, not optional.

Perfection isn’t the goal.

Proverbs aren’t ironclad promises; they’re short pithy statements of experiential truth.

Observation and listening are valued by God as the primary means of gaining understanding.

Most things in life are both/and, not either/or.

We all have two ears and one mouth. There needs to be twice as much listening as talking.

We must go hard after wisdom.

“Common sense is genius dressed in its working clothes.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having experience makes all the difference.

Action and reflection go hand-in-hand.

It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not okay to let fear stop us from action.

Simplicity and complexity are not necessarily antithetical.

Complete control is the glory of God. Self-control is the glory of humans.

“Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are and doing things as they ought to be done.”

C. E. Stowe

If we are going to raise our voices about something, then let us shout loudly in prayer for some basic wisdom and common sense from God. Any common fool can be won over by a podcast rant or get sucked into some blogger who vehemently damns everyone opposing his views. 

The wise believer, however, will humbly cry out to God for the wisdom to live well and make good decisions with both mind and mouth.

May it be so to the glory of God.

All-wise and everlasting God:

You know the number our of hairs and determine our days.

You hang the stars and feed the sparrows.

You open doors no one can shut and shut doors no one can open.

Surely, we can trust you when the time comes for making big decisions, or for that matter, any decision. We need your sagacity and discernment for all things. We will trust you for generous wisdom, straight paths, and peaceful hearts.

Blessed God:

We plan, seeking you to order our steps.

We pray, asking you to bend our prayers toward your benevolent purposes.

We seek counsel, counting on you to direct our words and actions more than trying to please someone else.

We search the Scriptures, looking to know Christ better.

It’s not our decisions, but yours that make all the difference. 

Gracious God:

Free us from the paralysis of analysis. We confess we are often more concerned with the perfect decision that impresses everybody, rather than being a righteous person.

Free us from idolatry. We confess we are often more concerned for our reputation than saying and doing what is right, just, and fair.

Free us from living in fear of disapproval. We confess we are often people-pleasers, rather than God-pleasers.

Free us from cheap and easy solutions to complex problems. We confess we often want speedy outcomes to our difficulties, rather than seeking to learn everything we can from the circumstances you give us.

Free us from continually second guessing ourselves and not trusting our gut. We confess that we often ignore the still small voice of wisdom within.

Sovereign God:

No matter the situation or the relationship, we affirm that your will and way for us is supreme.

Give us the desire and means of acquiring your will for all things.

Make us more and more like Jesus, even as we trust you for the opening and closing of doors that are in front of us.

May we live to your glory – Father, Son, and Spirit – the Holy Trinity we serve. Amen.

Habakkuk 3:2-15 – Coming to Grips with Injustice

Statue of the Prophet Habakkuk, by Donatello c.1425 in Florence, Italy

I know your reputation, Lord,
and I am amazed
    at what you have done.
Please turn from your anger
    and be merciful;
do for us what you did
    for our ancestors.

You are the same Holy God
who came from Teman
    and Paran to help us.
The brightness of your glory
    covered the heavens,
and your praises were heard
    everywhere on earth.
Your glory shone like the sun,
and light flashed from your hands,
    hiding your mighty power.
Dreadful diseases and plagues
marched in front
    and followed behind.
When you stopped,
    the earth shook;
when you stared,
    nations trembled;
when you walked
    along your ancient paths,
eternal mountains and hills
    crumbled and collapsed.
The tents of desert tribes
in Cushan and Midian
    were ripped apart.

Our Lord, were you angry
with the monsters
    of the deep?
You attacked in your chariot
    and wiped them out.
Your arrows were ready
    and obeyed your commands.

You split the earth apart
    with rivers and streams;
mountains trembled
    at the sight of you;
rain poured from the clouds;
    ocean waves roared and rose.
The sun and moon stood still,
while your arrows and spears
    flashed like lightning.

In your furious anger,
    you trampled on nations
to rescue your people
    and save your chosen one.
You crushed a nation’s ruler
and stripped his evil kingdom
    of its power.
His troops had come like a storm,
hoping to scatter us
    and glad to gobble us down.
To them we were refugees
    in hiding—
but you smashed their heads
    with their own weapons.
Then your chariots churned
    the waters of the sea. (Contemporary English Version)

“Willfulness must give way to willingness and surrender. Mastery must yield to mystery.”

Gerald G. May

Tucked away in the Old Testament is the little prophecy of Habakkuk. Yet it packs a punch of a message. 

The prophet was distressed over the corruption of his people, Israel. So, he complained to God about it. God responded by informing Habakkuk that judgment was coming to sinful Israel through the pagan Babylonians.

This was not what Habakkuk expected. The prophet grumbled even more about the fact that the Babylonians were much more evil than the Israelites. The Babylonians needed judgment, too! (Habakkuk 1:2-17)

Today’s Old Testament lesson is Habakkuk’s struggle to come to terms with what God was doing. He remembered the Lord’s mighty deeds and miraculous actions from the past. God brought justice to Israel and judged the powerful Egyptians.

It seems that Habakkuk wanted God to make right the corruption of Israel, but not to do it in the same way that pagan nations are handled.

“The most difficult thing I have ever had to do is follow the guidance I prayed for.”

Albert Schweitzer

We all must come to grips with the cost of justice, of truly making things right and turning corruption and oppression around. Sometimes, maybe most times, implementing justice will impact everyone in an adverse way. For there is no realistic scenario in which someone gets to call for justice, then doesn’t have to live with the consequences – even if that someone isn’t culpable for the unjust actions.

You see, we are all inextricably connected to one another. We are of the same human family. We truly are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. We don’t get to shout or throw rocks from a distance and have everything magically change with no cost to us, personally.

It took the prophet Habakkuk awhile, but he finally resolved to live without having any closure. Instead, he took the stance of faith that he had always taken. Because when all is said and done, whether we like a particular outcome, or not, we must all live by faith, trusting in the sovereign God who always does what is right.

And here is the conclusion the prophet settled upon:

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights. (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV)

Even though the circumstances were bad, and got worse, even dire, yet the prophet chose to rejoice in the Lord. He took the path of radical trust through suffering and hardship.

One of the most significant faith experiences we can ever have is to come to the point of complete trust in God so that our happiness is not dependent upon good circumstances. 

The truth is that the believer’s joy and spiritual security is independent of what is going on around them. Even though situations might be difficult, even evil, the faithful can still rejoice because they do not need everything to go their way in order to experience happiness.

Joy is neither cheap, nor easy. Total trust in God can only really come through a serious and open engagement, even argument, with God. And the place of contentment comes from a consistent, persevering, and constant interaction with God – just like Habakkuk did.

O Lord, we are at the limits of our power to effect any sort of change, help, or service. For what we have left undone, forgive us. For what you have helped us to do, we thank you. For what must be done by others, lend your strength. Now shelter us in your peace which passes our understanding. Amen.

Hosea 3:1-5 – Reconcile the Past

Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.”

So, I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and five bushels of barley and a measure of wine. Then I said to her, “You must live in my house for many days and stop your prostitution. During this time, you will not have sexual relations with anyone, not even with me.”

This shows that Israel will go a long time without a king or prince, and without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols! But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king. In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness. (New Living Translation)

Sometimes you have to get your behind in the past before you can put your past behind you.

The ancient nation of Israel was in a spiritual pickle. Gradually, over hundreds of years, they made small decisions of compromised religion which added up to a severe breach of faith with their historic God.

The relationship between God and God’s people, throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament, is many times likened to a marriage of two spouses – God, the faithful spouse, and Israel, the unfaithful spouse who adulterated themselves by seeking the love of other gods.

This situation evoked feelings of sadness and anger within God. To help restore the broken marriage, the Lord used the prophet Hosea as an earthly illustration of the divine/human dilemma.

Just as Hosea graciously took a wife of dubious repute, so God mercifully took Israel. Just as Hosea’s wife, Gomer, slept with other men, so Israel went to bed with other gods. And just as Hosea remained faithful and actively sought to reconcile the past with his wife, so God tenaciously and dramatically honored the covenant relationship with Israel by showing steadfast love, despite her sordid past.

Israel needed to do her part by reconciling the past – returning to the Lord through acknowledging the truth of the situation and owning their responsibility to make things right.

Holy Scripture exhorts the believer to live according to truth. Whenever we fail to do so, we suffer spiritual loss. We are told to confess and reject unfaithful patterns of past behavior and not allow them to influence us today (Titus 2:12; 1 Peter 1:14, 18). 

Neglecting our responsibility inevitably causes emotional, mental and physical repercussions, as well as spiritual. In the New Testament, when the Apostle Paul said he was forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, he could say that because he had come to terms with and reconciled his own terrible unfaithful past with God. (Philippians 3:4-13)

It is both helpful and necessary to go back into one’s life and deal with the past on the basis of truth. In doing so, we honor our relationship with God. We must ask the Lord to turn the searchlight of truth on us and our past. 

Trust God to help you remember all the times in which you need to reconcile what has happened (or failed to happen). Make the choice before God to be as honest as you possibly can. 

The following are some suggestions from a former professor and mentor, the late Dr. Victor Matthews, (put in my own words) to carefully follow:

  1. Write out every time you were unfaithful or were hurt by another’s unfaithfulness (reject the temptation to just think and/or talk about it). Be complete, name the people involved, state what happened, do not try and protect yourself or other people and do not fantasize and let your thoughts run amok.
  2. Evaluate each past event on the basis of truth. If you were unfaithful, then confess it to God truthfully and receive forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). If you were hurt by someone, and it was their fault, then state out loud that “_______ should not have done that to me.” When you have finished writing out the event(s) deliberately stop and completely forgive the person(s) (Mark 11:25-26).  If you were at fault in some way, then confess that to God, as well.
  3. Resist the temptation to hurry with this process! Do not generalize by putting many events into one. Be specific and take the time necessary to get in touch with what God is trying to help you connect with.  This practice of reconciling the past is not introspection, so do not indulge in self-pity, self-criticism, or develop a martyr syndrome.
  4. Affirm that your inner critic, others, and any dark force may no longer use your past against you. “In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ I take this event away from Satan and declare that he may not use it against me anymore!” (Ephesians 4:27; 5:11; 6:14).
  5. Receive the healing provided for those who believe and live according to God’s words and ways (Isaiah 53:5). “Now that I have made this right with you, O Lord, I receive the healing you have provided for me through the cross of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:19-20)

When you have finished your work, then count it finished. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” he meant what he said. (John 19:30)

Reconciling the past means leaning into the finished work of Jesus for our complete healing. If and when we think of our unfaithful past, then firmly state: “I have dealt with that truthfully. It is settled, once and for all.” 

Whenever unfaithful, from this point forward, confess it, receive forgiveness, and make the affirmations of truth. In doing so, we are living by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. Amen.