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.

Going Without: 2 Kings 11 – 17

Protecting the King. Joash – A Young Successor. Repairs to the Temple. The First Piggy Bank. Money for Good People, Not Nice Things. Evil Kings of Israel, and One Good.

They followed vanity, and became vain.

2 Kings 17:15b (KJV) 

They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless.

Same as Above (NIV)

Idol worship is all the rage in the lands of Jordan and Israel, and it appears that no one is completely immune to this ensnarement. I do not mean to apply the modern vernacular to the word “idol” either, which nowadays can mean an adoration of any un-Godly object. No, not a love of television or the admiration of pretty things – idols in the Old Testament means exactly – false gods. Solomon worshipped them and began a chain of Israeli (and Judean) kings who did the same. But no, the trend did not begin with him; it dates back all the way to just after the Exodus from Egypt. Remember the sight that Moses encountered when he trudged down the hillside of Mt. Sinai? All of his people dancing around a golden calf and sending up their praises. What is that all about?

And it is safe to say that God is completely sick of this behavior. After a brief aside describing Joash, one of the few holy kings of Judah, the author of 2 Kings slams us with a string of seven Israeli rulers, six of whom do “evil in the eyes of the Lord” by following their ancestors’ obsession with idol worship. Included in there behavior:

Rejection of God’s commands and covenants
Bowing to “starry hosts”
Sacrifiing their children
Worshipping Baal and golden calves

Tsk, tsk, nation of God. So, after the seventh generation in a row falls to this sin, God puts the kibosh on the whole thing and exiles Israel. And what does “exile” mean? It means that God removes them from His presence (leave only Judah now). And what does “removing from His presence” mean? I have no idea – less blessings and no covenants most likely – but I will keep you updated on any overt punishments that result.

I wonder about the enticing nature of worshipping false gods, because if everyone appears to respond to the temptation, surely there is something attractive about it. I cannot believe that it is just our rebellious nature. No, there must be some carnal attraction towards it – something that feels necessary to the user.

I do not think that all sins in the Bible are equal, because the motives any action vary wildly. For instance, fibbing about a friends appearance cannot possibly be put on the same level as a vicious, violent crime, even if “all sin is the same” to God. Not many Christian people can relate to the sin of following false gods, because it is something completely banal to them – murder, thievery, and rape probably fall into the same category. Do not kill. Done, that was never going to be an issue for me anyway.

But homosexuality… suddenly, the requirements are much more intense. To give up that “sin,” a gay or lesbian individual must now go without love, intimacy, family… suddenly the sacrifice seems intense. So I wonder about all these instances of following false gods. Is this nefarious – just utter selfishness as the biblical narrative represents? Or was there some sort of loss in honoring God and ignoring idols? I don’t honestly know. I do know that when the Bible presents sins… it is never a fib to make a friend feel better. It is rebellion. It is a bold choice in the face of truth. I don’t see my “sins” that way, but I wonder if anyone does.

This Sounds Familiar: 2 Kings 3 – 10

Elisha Makes Miraculous Oil. Elisha Produces Flour. Elisha Raises the Dead. Elisha Feeds a Hundred.

“How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked. But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’”

2 Kings 4:43b (NIV)

Hanging around non-Christian kids growing up made me incredibly uncomfortable. They tended to curse a little more (but not always) and were allowed to sleep as late as they wanted on Sundays (except for… chores and stuff). As I went to a private Christian school until High School, my only opportunity to interact with them was during my local Pop Warner football practice. Honestly, they frightened me, because I had no expectation of their possible behavior. What if they pressured me to sin or even worse, mocked me for not participating in their shenanigans? I knew this much: I believed in Jesus Christ, and they didn’t. So what was their center? How did they know to do right, to love others? They were so alien to me.

And then High School came, and the roles reversed. I was one of a few in a sea of hundreds of non-believers, and a good number of them judged me based solely on my religious affiliation. Being a nice Christian teen meant nothing to secular peers, and instead of proving my higher moral center, it actually worked against me. Many thought I was judgmental and shrill, while others just felt indifferent towards me. Other fellow Christian spies hiding out among the masses enjoyed spending time with me, and after a few months, I even found ground with these unbelievers and made friends. But as I expanded my horizons and began relationships with others, one thing became abundantly clear:

I was right, and they were wrong.

For instance, they told me about how many of the world’s religions had a ton of similarities to Christianity, such as the creation narrative, the downfall of Adam and Eve, and even Noah’s flood. Many of these stories, they said, could be traced back thousands of years before Judaism hit the circuit. But I just did not see it. The Christian traditions came first, I said, and then the other religions just based theirs off of ours. No, no, they argued, I had my facts wrong. And then there was Mormonism (which we all agreed was cuckoo), which had Jesus descending into the Americas and doing the whole Messiah thing over again. And many of the verses and stories in the Book of Mormon seemed to be lifted word for word out of the Bible! Ha ha ha, we laughed, that is so ridiculous!

So Elijah is all ascended up into Heaven, and now we are left with his protégé Elisha. Before leaving us all behind, Elijah promises to bestow many of his gifts onto his second-in-command so that the ministry and prophecy of God may continue – especially as the kingdom remains as divided and Godless as ever. Famine falls upon both Judah and Israel, and Elisha comes across a starving widow and her child. As they prepare to make their final bread and then die, Elisha performs a miracle by making her supplies endless. And then, a family nearby mourns the death of their son. But do not fear, Elisha relishes in the couple’s upstanding behavior and revives the child. Finally, a man approaches Elisha with twenty loaves of bread that are meant to feed one hundred people. Elisha says give it over, and the man scoffs at the suggestion. But the Lord delivers, and somehow, the bread feeds the entire crowd – ! Wait…

This all sounds very familiar.

In some thousand years (or something), Jesus will be performing these exact same miracles to a much higher fanfare. I did some research, and many biblical scholars view these not as coincidences or redundancies, but rather as foreshadowing and fulfillment. In their view, Elisha performs these actions as a way of laying the framework for Jesus to appear on the scene. The opposing view should be obvious to us all: these are mistakes in the biblical narrative, lapses in creativity.

So I think to my teenage self, that upstanding Christian teen so vehemently defending the perfection of the Bible. And now, with a couple of years (read: a decade) of life experience, I find myself much more incredulous. I do not like either of those people – the aggressive zealot or the jaded cynic. I want to be in the middle – to be capable in believing in the things that cannot be proved while still maintaining my intellectuality. Is that impossible?

Whispers: 1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 2

Elijah the Great Prophet. Drought Settles. God v. god. A Glorious Revealing. An Appropriate Assistant. Blood for Dogs. Taken to Heaven.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

1 Kings 19:11a-12 (NIV)

The lure of the Summer Service Project, or “Missions Trip,” grabbed a hold of me in eighth grade. In February, Pastor Hank started challenging us to pray about the summer trip – a week in an un-gentrified part of town, sleeping in sleeping bags and weeding lawns full of dandelions and Coors bottles. Could make some friends, could get lice, could build a tan from all that sun-work. So I followed his command and prayed about it, but my mind had been made up long ago about it. My brother did it the year before, and he brought back stories of all night games of sardines and cheesy gross dares and wrestling matches on the foam pads in the pre-school room. No thought to be had or prayers to be prayed – I was going.

What compelled me to go? Was it the serving, the playing, the constant games of dodgeball? It wasn’t God.

And then the internship at my church, the idea being that I would be a “peer mentor” to the middle schoolers going into high school, and since I was a Freshman in college and all, they would look up to me. Duties included fellowship with the kids and leading small group Bible studies, and then there was the expense account to take the guys out on day trips to Six Flags and the movies. A perk involved taking a diverse group of students to Creation, a Christian version of Woodstock, but that seemed much more like a downside to me. It would be a fun summer job, something to keep me busy, long hours, and what else would I be doing? I took the job and didn’t regret it; it was a great, memorable summer.

But why did I say yes? Was it the fellowship, the leadership, the free trips to theme parks? God was involved certainly – I took this one more seriously. But it wasn’t all God.

Then there was Oliver, who came to my theater party and danced like a dancer and drank too much and hugged me for three seconds too long. It took pestering a half dozen friends before someone felt comfortable giving his number to me. The excuses I made – he told me he wanted to read a play of mine and he left his sunglasses at my house… yes I know the party was at night. But I got it. No one encouraged me to text him; this was all my doing. And I did. I invited him to hang out that evening, on a lazy Sunday night. And he said yes. And I told my roommates to scram, because I had a lady coming over. And they grinned and grimaced and took their books and left.

No one told me to do it, nothing overtly compelling came forward. No… it was a whisper that said, go ahead… you want this, can’t you feel it? The hushed voice continued and sometimes fluctuated and said, stop, do you know what you’re doing, the horror, the horror, and just as quickly it’d whip around back to, but it feels good… so it is good.

It was a whisper.

Elijah is a spiritual superstar complete with unshakable Godly loyalty and a command over miraculous events. He parts the Jordan River by dipping his robe in the waters; fire pummels the Earth with a flick of his index finger. The authors of 1 and 2 Kings record no sinful behavior on his part, which is remarkable considering his company – not only the fallen leaders who have parted ways with their Creator but also a horde of angry denizens crying out for his head. God shuttles him off to the heavens before death befalls him – the only human to be awarded such a fate with the exception of Jesus Christ himself. But before accomplishing all of these exceptional feats… before crossing the Jordan and raining plagues and blessings from God, before thrusting into the hammocks of Paradise… God called upon Elijah to climb a mountain to meet Him.

As he climbed, the wind roared against him, but we are told that God was not in the wind.
Then the Earth shook from its core, but God did not cause the earthquake.
Then a fire burst forth and swallowed the area around it, but the fire was not from God.
And when all of the muck settled, a whisper sauntered in and hit Elijah’s ear – a faint voice that commanded him.

It was God.