Let Them Come Home: 2 Chronicles 28 – 36

The End of the Second Pass.

He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword…

2 Chronicles 36:20a (NIV)

Let’s do a quick recap on 2 Chronicles to see where we are at:

King Asa did good in the eyes of the Lord, until he sinned by sending God’s money away, and he died from a disease of his feet.
King Jehoshaphat did good in the eyes of the Lord, and he died with honor.
King Jehoram did evil by murdering his own people, and he died from a disease of the bowels.
King Ahaziah did evil by following his wayward mother and died by execution by his enemies.
King Joash did evil by killing a priest’s son and died in retribution.
King Amaziah did good, but not wholeheartedly, and was killed by conspirers.
King Uzziah did good, but became prideful, and died with leprosy.

Then Jothanm (good) and Ahaz (evil) and Hezekiah (good) and Manasseh (evil). Then Amon (evil) and Josiah (good). And then Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Jehoiachin (evil, worse, the worst). And finally, the end, at Zedekiah. Nebuchadnezzar swoops in, and God’s remaining people are exiled to Babylon, awaiting… something, some change, an invitation to return to their land.

This is quite the varied group, running the gamut from the horrifically evil to the completely righteous, but God remains a part of each of their reigns. And then, He exiles them. And then, he brings them back.

I assume this is because God refuses to allow the sins of mankind to derail His plan.

Or maybe it is because He remains loyal to us, in spite of our sins.

I don’t know.

But whatever the reason, He let’s them go home. Like prodigal children, they return to their land, when they do not deserve it.

There has been a small shift in the way I am approaching my reading. My attitude reading recently, particularly throughout the Law, was overwhelming negative, but do not think that it came that way without reason. In those moments, I lost the logical thread to the Bible, or to put it more pointedly, I lost all relatable connection to it. My reaction was anger – why would I ever believe in a God who ordains so-and-so and demands everything? No way.

So I decided to change my approach. Anger is not necessarily out of the question as an emotional response to any individual circumstance, but it should not be my immediate and first reaction. Like any good theatergoer knows, you must suspend your disbelief before entering a play or musical, or else you risk getting bogged down in the whole logic of it. Real people don’t act this way! Well duh, because real people do not have hundreds of people observing their actions.

That type of judgment cannot lead to growth, and frankly, it is no fun.

So I am buying in. The kingdoms of Israel and Judah screwed up, and God kept on saving them. So, they were exiled – and rightfully so – and God eventually let them go home – out of His eternal goodness. There. No arguments. Let’s see where that attitude gets me.

Loyalty to Loyalty: 2 Chronicles 19 – 27

Nevertheless, because of the covenant the Lord had made with David, the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David. He had promised to maintain a lamp for him and his descendants forever.

2 Chronicles 21:7 (NIV)

Leslie announced to my humanities class that she was a Wiccan, and I immediately grew suspicious. We would never be friends, because it would not work. I needed to make friends – I had just enrolled in public high school and had a scant few – but desperation could not be the guiding motivation in my quest. She stood on bold feet, never swaying in her stance both politically and physically. Her hair started black but transitioned into purple near the tips, and then there were the thumbholes chiseled into all her sweatshirt sleeves. Her look put me off as much as her personality. I was a strong Christian, with loyalty to God and my church friends, and she was a witch for Chrissake – No. No friendship was possible.

It turned out that we had most every class together – honors kids tended to travel in packs around from class to class – so, I had to be friendly. Soon, my church friends learned of my proximity to a true pagan and questioned me about it. Suddenly, my loyalty to God required me to make a connection with her, to be a good example, to minister to her. Sure, I said. Leslie participated in the theater club, and I had recently joined as well. That, plus the parallel schedules, and some of my new acquaintances crossed over with hers… Sure, I could strike up a friendship – as long as I maintained my loyalty.

It started at a mutual hang out, Apples to Apples and charades served up with soda and chips. Common ground was the best strategy – discuss theater… then talk about classes… move on to God. I mentioned my home life, my Mom, my Dad, my brother, my sister, and she chuckled. No siblings for her, divorced parents, and her father was now a woman. My tongue fell out of my mouth in awe. I had never known anyone like her. I invited her to church, and she said fuck no. She said God was probably a woman anyhow, and she could not be a Christian. You’re all homophobes who are probably gay and racists who lust after black people. I grew shy. She backed off. I backed off. And suddenly, we had lots to talk about.

I played my first game of strip poker with her, though no one in the group had the guts to go completely bare. We all ended at boxers and the equivalent and then redressed with our backs to the circle while others snuck glances. We could not get naked, because then, nothing would be left to do. And there was no alcohol, we did not drink together, so that was not a factor. I had to leave the party early to go to church the next day, so I did not stay for round two.

Months later, she invited me to her house – just the two of us. Hot tub and a movie. We ditched the plan early and made a better one. Let’s drive to the Jersey Shore for the night. So many reasons to say no – it was already midnight – driving curfews – low cash – over two hour drive. But we said yes.

The vacant boardwalk quaked from the lapping waves. We sat on the railing overlooking the ocean, deciding how to proceed. The stars poked brightly through relaxed clouds, and we had two different explanations for their existence. The same with the waves, the rhythm, the tides and the moon, contentment and torment. We argued about science and philosophy, and after minutes or hours, we decided it was both – and no, that was not impossible.

Let’s go fucking crazy. She threw her fist into my spine. Let’s sleep on the sand until the first signs of dawn. We wrestled on the beach. Then we’ll drive home like hungover college students. We shed clothes and swam but had forgotten towels. We’ll be totally blameless. We lasted 45 minutes before the gnats ate us alive and drove back home with the windows down to keep from falling asleep. I was fifteen minutes late for church and forewent coffee. I did not need it. My mind buzzed with the most immediate nostalgia. I longed for a time only two hours passed and feared I would never feel that way again.

I stopped inviting Leslie to church, and she did not mock my faith. The details no longer mattered, because we were so similar. Common ground stopped being a mission and grew from a loyalty between us.

Pastor Hank looked me in the eyes after the second praise break and gripped my hand too hard. Did you drink last night? I hadn’t drank and told him so, but he didn’t believe me but had no proof. He told me he would not tell my parents, and I needed to be careful from now on. I thanked him for his loyalty.

The Short Version: 2 Chronicles 10 – 18

Bad King. Good King. Godly King. Selfish King.

Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.

2 Chronicles 14:2 (NIV)

It is often best to go with the short version. Consider monumental life events, like weddings and funerals. We tend to opt out of a serious analysis and just focus on the good stuff. Buddy was a huge dick to me in college is a sentence you would never hear at an event like this, because it is both negative and too much information for the situation. We save that stuff for personal conversations, or even public declarations if we deem it necessary to bring someone down to size. But even those passing comments are probably still “the short version” – just on the negative end. It is difficult to fit it all in.

Simple is often best, because nuance takes an amount of energy that is just not realistic. The Bible is not without depth, but it certainly glosses over details in order to tell present its narrative. With 10,000 years of history within its pages, it is no wonder that certain stories appear curtailed. Because they are.

You have sensed my frustration no doubt. Go back and read my entries on Judah (Joseph’s less-than-amazing brother) or Pharaoh, and you will notice that I often take the side of the judged rather than the blameless. This is both the nature of close scrutiny, but it also points to my matter of mind. I believe in nuance and redemption.

Chronicles takes us back through the rulers of Judah, and since it covers centuries of leaders in only dozens of pages, it glosses over a few things. The writer has established a rhythm:

The determination of good or bad often relies on that particular leader’s affection towards false idols – the greatest single temptation of the ancient world. Never mind Solomon’s hundreds of wives or his obsession with extravagant things – he is a “good” leader up until he falls for false idols.

In the Bible, it really is that simple. Do you follow God – yes or no?

So, the short version is the correct version. Because nothing else really matters.

Pretty Little Things: 2 Chronicles 1 – 9

The Gift of Wisdom. To Build a Palace and Temple. The Ark Arrives. A Prayer. Wisdom: Tested and Proved.

Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue…

2 Chronicles 1:14-16b (NIV)

I named my pet turtle “Jupiter” after the street of my boyhood home. We moved a year after I was born, but since my parents were sentimentalists – always showing off photos and gesturing stories – I still felt a deep connection to the place. My first home. It did not matter that I had no memories of the place or that it existed only in the words of my family. It was still an affectionate piece of me: I could not explain the nostalgia.

Jupiter found his way to me through a co-worker of my father’s – a fellow parent who no longer wanted to take care of it. I had spent the better part of the year guilting him into a pet, since my brother had fish and my sister had a guinea pig. It’s only fair, I whined. I am old enough for a pet. Honest. So one day, he came home with a turtle in a tub and told me to pick some rocks from the nearby creek for its new home. We never sprung for the full on aquarium – no, Jupiter stayed holed up in that same blue dishwashing tub for the entirety of his life.

I had my little responsibilities. Each morning, I took five pellets of turtle food and placed them in different spots of the tub (so Jupiter would get exercise as he snacked). Then once a week, I sprayed down the tub with a hose, while Jupiter laid sullenly on my bedspread. About a year into his residence, my mother suggested adding a weekly lawn trot onto his regimen, “outdoors” time if you will, so Jupiter would not totally lose his animalistic nature. It seemed like an innocent suggestion, until I realized my mother’s true intentions. She hated the turtle. It smelled musty, and the tub was an eyesore. And Jupiter was the last surviving member of the children’s pets (the guinea pig developed a tumor, and an ill-placed crayfish ate all the fish). She was done with pets – Jupiter had to go – and I think my mother secretly hoped my carelessness would result in the turtle waddling away during rec time.

That summer, she put the kibosh in it. You’re going to take Jupiter, she instructed, and let him go into the pond. I cried over the loss like a child would mourn a pet’s death, because that was what it felt like to me. It was like capital punishment – but for a turtle – institutionalized banishment. It was sentimentality and the lingering nostalgia of my first home. Jupiter represented a piece of my youth, and I never liked change. You could have taken my toys and dumped them, tossed my computer or whatever. Take away all my things, my mass produced things, and leave me my memories and the tokens that represented them. Don’t take my turtle.

Jupiter would not go. I placed him on the edge of the pond, but he just sat there. Maybe the mud was too deep for him. So, I dropped him in the actual water, but no, he froze there too. Turtles needed water, right? What if the years of the tub-existence had drained him of his instincts? What if he stayed out in the sun and fried to death, all because we kept him contained in a plastic cage?

So I picked Jupiter up and with my best throw, pitched him out into the center of the 50-foot-pond.

My father recalled the story differently, laughing over dinner later with the rest of the family. He said I had skipped Jupiter across the top of the pond with a sharp flick of my wrist. I denied it. But the myth grew, and soon everyone knew about my turtle’s end. Tss-tss-tss, right across the surface, 15-odd skips until plop! into the center. Regardless of the way it happened, they knew as well as I did: that turtle was dead.

Solomon installs all of the God’s holy things, and it ends up being his most pertinent contribution to the Kingdom. As this is our second pass through this story, I will not reiterate the nature of these things, but recall that it is all extravagant, costing top dollar to buy and decades to build. In the end, we end up with a tip-top palace and a temple fit for the Ark of the Covenant.

Why such preciousness? We do not know. We do know that this God likes the first of the lambs to be sacrificed, the best offerings of crops and drinks, and well-fed priests with the most succulent portions. These things are important – a way of showing respect and dedication. God values them.

Years later as I approached pubescence, we drove by the pond where I parted with Jupiter. This was not an odd occurrence; we lived right up the road from the pond. But today it was different. The pond was bone dry, fizzled by a particularly dry summer. It reminded me of the turtle, and I wondered if maybe he survived the traumatic journey across the top of the water. My mother and I talked about him for a moment, both of us smiling. She recalled the “stone skip” myth, and we laughed about it with the relief of retrospection. But after the memory waned and my expression fell neutral, I noticed that my mother maintained her smile. What’s so funny? I asked her.

The name of my boyhood street… It was Juniper, not Jupiter. I had named the turtle incorrectly, based on a mis-memory of the street’s title. She thought the mistake was cute back then and never had to heart to tell me.

A Place for Everyone: 1 Chronicles 23 – 29

Some Are Priests. Some Are Musicians. Some Gatekeepers and Leaders and Overseers.

[David said,] “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

1 Chronicles 29:14 (NIV)

Everyone Has a Talent to Contribute, reads the invisible motivational poster hanging up in every church in America. Some people were great orators and gifted with leading Bible studies and sermons. Then there were all the praise and worship people, the young rockers and the blonde singers who took charge of the band. Some people were greeters. They were good at… holding open doors and smiling and setting out muffins.

Mine was “tech,” like audio/visual support. I was good at that. Except that I wasn’t, it was just the best for me at church. Math was my talent growing up, and that really had no place in a pre-teen church service. But Math was sort of like Science which was sort of related to tech, so there you go. But I genuinely liked it, even though I had no idea what I was actually doing, because it was a role for me to fulfill. We laid out cables and pushed the “next” button on the slides. My close friend and techie master Ian did all the real stuff, like mixing the audio and solving in-the-moment problems. I mostly took orders, stood by if someone needed a body or a mic cord needed replugging, but I genuinely enjoyed it. Purpose, however contrived, felt good.

But secretly, doesn’t everyone want to be one of the musicians? Some admire the pastors, because they are in charge. But what’s cooler, the boring guy on the pulpit or the singers and dancers and praisers? Anyone can read a Bible verse and put a group of teenagers to sleep, but few can strum chords on beat and sing with perfect pitch. Their talent transcended the church experience – it was cool in any setting.

Not my domain though, and such a shame. My brother had taken all the shares of the music genes allotted for our family – none for Mom, Dad, Sister, or me. He was so good that he did not even have time for the praise and worship team at church. No, no, far too busy traveling to Australia and South Africa, and singing on Saturday Night Live*. This sounds like sour grapes (because it is), but I had a hard time grasping why my brother got all the “visible” talent. But I got over it as time went on and settled into my position far behind and above everyone else (in the tech booth, obviously). I never got good at electronics and stuff, though, nope. Just learned to be passable until the church offered another position that suited me better – which they did a few years later when they introduced the high school “drama team.”

What does this have to do with 1 Chronicles 23-29? The author makes a very detailed list of all the roles that God set aside for each of the tribes of Israel – which is a rehash of a similar list from the Law. It is comprehensive, taking into account roles for musicians and leaders, ark-attendants and soldiers. Everyone has their place.

But it is not based upon interest or talent. My church… they tried to match up individuals with jobs with some sort of logic, but the men and women (read: men) of the Bible had their positions endowed based upon birth. Levites had it the best – acting as the priests of the group. They got to go near the Ark of the Covenant and took the best portions of the offerings.

They were like the “Christian rock band kids” of the Old Testament. They even had it better than the musicians.

*For real. He’s one of those kids in the red jackets in the back.


This Is Satan: 1 Chronicles 16 – 22

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

1 Chronicles 21:1 (NIV)

Don’t skip the opening verse this time. Scroll back up three lines, and read it.

Satan, in the flesh, finally jumps onto the scene (and just a far warning for everyone, this is going to be one of those lots-of-questions-and-few-conclusions entries).

In my last entry, I spoke about a particularly painful sin of David’s that led to a great divide between him and God. It was a painful experience, once that resulted in many Israeli deaths as punishment, but also in the loss of status. Humans tend to look up to role models, and God is David’s utmost concern. So yes, there is sin, but there is also loss. And there is a distinction between those two things.

But I glossed over one important detail, namely that Satan himself inspired the great David to fall. For a villain so infamous, I am surprised at how late the Bible mentions him, especially since he was supposedly so instrumental in the Fall of Man way back when (Though, we just assume the serpent was one with Satan – no textual evidence to support that yet). So here we have the Devil, and his temptation of choice is convincing David to count his soldiers? This does not seem like a grievous sin to me. While reading the Law, many of God’s rules seemed ridiculous to me – uncleanliness during periods, the infidelity-abortion practice, and the statute against shellfish, to name three – but even though I judged these laws’ efficacy, I still sort of got the internal logic underneath. We do not know why it is a sin to count up troops, but God certainly hates it, judging by his what’s-behind-door-number-one retribution.

I remember Satan being a very active antagonist in both the modern and ancient worlds. My understanding growing up was that the devil, or one of his minions, was behind most sinful behavior, and that any temptation originated from his scheming. So far in the Bible, however, that has not been the case. Yes, we had the serpent (read: not necessarily Satan) who tempted Adam and Eve, and then a whole stretch of generations up until David with no mention of a tempting outside force – just sinful men and women doing damned sinful things. No wait, that is not entirely true… Yes, there were sinful people, but there was also God hardening the hearts of those who needed to fall in order to enact some part of His grand plan.

When I thought about that, I realized that this story sounded familiar. We read this exact same narrative back in Samuel, with God becoming furious over David numbering his troops, so I went back to see if Satan popped up there as well. I came across 2 Samuel 24 for some clarity:

Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”

This is a different story, with a huge distinction. On this account, we witness one of God’s “heart hardening” scenarios, and in the latter scene, the wrath of God is unleashed only after the sin of David (purported by Satan) takes place.

Nope. Not the same at all.

So I am left with this question: “Who is Satan supposed to be?” I thought he was a menace, the real arbiter behind humanity’s wretchedness. But maybe that is not the case. Is he just meant to be a symbol, something we point to as an image of sin?

And how do we deal with this huge contradiction, when we are meant to believe in the Bible’s infallibility?

See, people. Questions. And no conclusions.

Pride & Disappointment: 1 Chronicles 16 – 22

God Loves David. God Punishes David.

[God said,] I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name like the names of the greatest men on earth.

1 Chronicles 17:8 (NIV)

This is what the Lord says: “Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.”

1 Chronicles 21:11–12 (NIV)

Today, we get a retread of a high and low of the David-God relationship. At first, things are looking as bright as ever, as David offers to build a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant but God wards him off. You’ve worked enough and been a loyal servant, God says. That will be someone else’s worry. This prompts David to go on a chapter long reflection of God’s love and kindness; you can sense his genuine appreciation for the life God has provided.

But then, things take a sour turn as David knowingly disobeys the Lord’s will. He decides to take a census of all the soldiers in under his command, which is (inexplicably) against the wishes of the Most High. This leads to a quick condemnation, even from the sinner himself, and three options for punishments are offered: three years of famine, three months of wartime losses, or three days of famine. David chooses the latter, and the result is tens of thousands of Israeli deaths. The scorn is palpable throughout, and on my second time reading this story, I felt much more understanding for David’s pain. He genuinely wants to please God, his spiritual father. That is not a ridiculous desire.

Seeking approval has been a pastime of mine since the beginning. It started with teachers; I just loved teachers. When they wanted us to hush down, I would look around and shush detractors. Homework was always done properly and on time. I volunteered for the little jobs no one wanted to do – like collecting papers and holding the door. I frequently called my female teachers “Mom.” Yeah, I was that guy. In high school, that obsessive need to please moved on to peers, and I became hung up on anyone who took a special dislike towards me. If someone gossiped about me or threw a nasty comment my way, my gut reaction was to “fix the issue” rather than defend myself. It rarely worked. Now, as an adult, it is all of the above – friends, bosses, co-workers.

But I always wanted to please my parents – nothing felt completely right without their approval. It was something about their expectations for me. They wanted me to be happy – all loving parents want that – but they also pushed me to be a good person, a role model. Following the pack would not do, because most of the time, the “pack” stumbled in the wrong direction. No, they desired something more for me – an intelligent mind but more importantly, a resplendent character. They more than desired it; they expected it.

So I once I realized that my nature (read: MY QUEERNESS) contradicted my parents’ intentions, I learned how to adapt given the situation. Around Christian folk, I puffed up my chest and spoke the words and spouted the values. Then, in secret – and more and more in public as the years went on – I would sing a totally different tune, a show tune if you will, about attractive guys and alt-lifestyle living. I was either liberal or conservative, but never moderate – activist and relaxist in one. Needed someone to hear you out? You called me up. I had serious opinions about Lost and whatever writing project I was working on, and that was pretty much it. And for about eight years, that dual-nature was ordinary to me, just a part of who I was. And I did not mind it at all. I mean it when I say… I was prepared to keep it up forever.

You can interpret my flip-flopping behavior as well-meaning or completely nefarious (though neither would absolve me from the deception involved). I honestly believe that it was both empathetic and illusory. I wanted to present my best self to everyone I came across, which made me weaken my self-image when confronted with dissension. It was incredibly easy to go with the flow and adapt myself to the company that I encountered, and it usually ended in my favor – with new friends and strengthened bonds. However, I also genuinely empathize with most people and see their perspective – that is a huge reason behind this project. Believe it or not, I sense good behind even the most challenging opinions of Christianity, and due to my religious history, I feel the need to figure it out.

That is not a ridiculous desire.

Also, hey, I forgot to mention something about this narrative. The passages outlining David’s sin start with a very memorable sentence:

Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

That’s right readers. The devil himself Satan finally comes in to play. We’ve got to talk about this

See you Monday.

A Second Pass: 1 Chronicles 1 – 15

A Whole Lot of Begatting – Nine Chapters Worth. Saul Kills Himself. David Rises. The Return of the Ark. Battle with the Phill- Wait a Minute… Haven’t We Heard All of this Before?

Some Gadites defected to David at his stronghold in the wilderness. They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains.

1 Chronicles 12:8 (NIV)

The two volumes of Kings end on a cliffhanger, with the nation of Judah falling to the advance of Nebuchadnezzar and the future of God’s kingdom in doubt. Now, we move onto the two volumes of Chronicles, and instead of chugging forward, we take a step back. A huge step back, that is, all the way to creation. That’s right folks… it is time for another round of so-and-so (male) begat whos-a-what (male) whose children (sons) were A, B, and C. It goes on for nine chapters, and no, it is not exactly riveting for the layperson to review. It is important, however, to show us how far we have come in the Bible so far. Call it a respite or that summary review at the end of a textbook chapter.

But then, after catching up on all the lineage, we still remain back in time a few hundred years, picking up with the end of Saul’s story (for those who forget… he kills himself by the sword). As it turns out, Chronicles covers the exact same time period as the books of Samuel and Kings, providing some additional detail that the previous efforts may have missed. So we get a second pass at these stories, and these rules, and their disappointing behavior, and their eventual downfall. So strap in folks as we go round the Saul-David-Solomon carousel one more time.

I think second passes can be a good thing, if not for clarity’s sake, then for a different perspective. My impression of the Chronicles retelling is that it is much more of a confirming account than a differing perspective (think the Gospels rather than some nifty JJ Abrams show), so I do not expect to learn some hidden detail about these stories. Rather, I am looking forward to hearing them for a second time, where I am in a different emotional and social state of mind than the first.

It is no secret that my current attitude drives the content of each of my entries. I am, after all, writing an essay a day with little hard reflection time on the passage at hand, so rarely do I get to sit long on a story before I comment on it.

Here’s my chance. Second chances. I hope you enjoy them.

By Force (Part 2): 2 Kings 18 – 25

(This is the second part of a two-part entry. Check out the first part here)

Propaganda. Hezekiah Mounts. Assyria Defeated. Judah Collapses. Josiah Redeems, But. Enter Nebuchadnezzar.

God dissolves His kingdom. We have already seen Israel collapse under the weight of its own sin, and now it is Judah’s turn. But how did it get this bad, how did Moses’ people possibly go from so beloved to so reviled by the Lord?

Hezekiah enters the scene right before everything falls apart and does his best to keep it from happening. His faith leaps in a way that we have not seen since David; once appointed, Hezekiah immediately gets to work on ridding the temple of all signs of idolatry – a quick way to get on God’s good side. Then, he leads the army to defeat the evil Assyrian king Sennacherib, who has been spreading affecting propaganda – about a future of consuming urine and feces no less – to secure troops for his side. But as all great leaders must, Hezekiah eventually passes on to rest with the other members of God’s A squad.

Then, six evil kings later, God decides to put an end to it all by scattering His people and ending the kingdom of Judah (for now). He allows the Babylonian nemesis Nebuchadnezzar to overtake the city of Jerusalem, thus laying down the final dirt of His punishment (for now).

The language in this section of the Bible is alarmingly aggressive, even in its most poetic moments. God warns of disaster that will make ears tingle, that he will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish. Some of the most antagonistic descriptions come when God lays down his intention of destroying the Assyrian rebellion. In one section, He says:

I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
    by the way you came.

2 Kings 19:28 (NIV)

When the evil men of the world stray, the Lord will treat them like cattle, pulling them back into submission.

I am not going to over-dramatize this phrasing – it is true that God is referring to a pretty heinous leader who actively stirs and overflowing pot – but it struck me nonetheless. A hook in my nose. A bit in my mouth. I have felt that way before, being led back to the herd in a forced way.

It is why I always recoiled against writing forced apology letters. If my parents are guiding my hand, then it is not genuine, so why apologize in the first place? Why all the pomp, if it is meaningless? I realize that a laissez-faire attitude in this circumstance would not work – children must learn some good behavior by muscle memory, even if the attitude is not completely honest. But now… as an adult? My attitude must be honest, because if not, then what’s the point?

I do not think anyone here is suggesting a hook-and-bit approach to evangelism (contextually, God uses this harsh language towards a particularly apoplectic enemy). That is a relief to me – I find persuasion by force to be a highly ineffective strategy for lasting results. But often, I feel that pressure – I can sense that rope being lowered around my neck to be forced in a certain direction. And that makes me feel led astray.

By Force (Part 1): 2 Kings 18 – 25

My parents did a good thing. Well, they did lots of good things – do I mention that enough? – but one thing they did particularly well was expectation.

Let me give you a scenario: I shanked this classmate of mine. No, I didn’t stab him; I shanked him like kids do, which means pulling down someone’s pants when he or she (God forbid she) least expected it. A group of us decided to do it on the playground, not in front of the other classmates, we weren’t animals. This kid though, he was fat and unpopular – dorky but not smart – one of those. We shouldn’t have done it. Well, he went ballistic and cried, and he ran to his Mom in the middle school (she was a teacher, what were we thinking?), and it was a whole ordeal. The crew and I got detention for a week, the only academic punishment I ever received in my entire life. But the real discipline would be saved for home…

My mother often used the “write it out” punishment, which involved copying down a certain word or phrase hundreds of times. You know, like “I will not lie or cheat” 300 times or so – the harsher the crime, the more repetitions owed. For this instance, she thought I needed to learn a big lesson, so she gave me a long line: “I will treat my classmates with respect and never ever shank anyone again.” Too long – brutally long. And 500 times.

Once the sentence was handed down, the strategizing began. How can I get through this as quickly as possible? Writing them out one-by-one causes cramps and seemed to take forever. First, I needed to take care of the “I”s, which was easy.


Think that’s just a line on the side? Just wait, I had a plan.

SCYBORG15021717080Boom. A whole row of “I”s in a moment’s time. Now was time for the next word “will.” Unfortunately, I had to do this the old fashioned way… just write it out.


So much easier than doing one sentence at a time, and so gratifying. The paper was filling up already.


There. “Treat” was done. But this method was already getting tiresome. So I decided to vary it up a bit.


Damn it! Ran out of room! I probably should have seen this coming, as it took up two lines at the top to write the whole sentence out. And this was probably my mother’s plan all alone. So I tried to alter my plan.


Well this certainly could sustain. My mother would not accept this work; she would just make me start all over. Crap.

Eventually, I finished my sentence as well as served my time in detention and was ready to move on. But not yet, my mother said, her gaze stern. Now you need to write an apology letter.

This was the absolute worst punishment imaginable for several reasons, many of which you might be able to guess. First of all, it was embarrassing. No one elementary school student wanted to write out an apology, much less deliver one, and I maintain that my victim would also never want to receive one. Additionally, there was the time and energy factor. My hand was still cramped from all the sentence repetitions, and this was just unfair. But the final – and most important reason – it was completely meaningless.

Not like “I’m a kid and this sucks” meaningless. Like actually meaningless.

More on this tomorrow… including, you know, the Bible.