Psalm 128

This is another Psalm of Ascension that wasn’t composed specifically for pilgrimage. Rather, it is didactic in nature and presents the pilgrim’s goal of Jerusalem as the capstone of blessings. God’s favor on Jerusalem was the foundation of national welfare, and people of faith were the king’s true treasure.

There is no distinction in Hebrew; the same word is translated “blessed” and “happy.” God’s favor is the ultimate reward. Everything implied by that image becomes a reward in itself, not least of which is communion with Creation itself, and a life consistent with God’s revelation. This is how we claim the fullness of whatever it is God offers to humans. Thus, reverence for God is just words unless we walk in His ways.

In the Ancient Near East, eating your own harvest is contrasted with crop failures and theft from raiders and invaders. In short, everything will go well for you. The image of the wife as a fruitful grape vine is an ancient symbol for a whole lot more.

Consider that her life is rooted at home, not wandering. She’s fruitful and it all contributes to the family’s welfare. His children grow up like olive trees already at the table, supplying a generous diet and the means to light the house. Both are symbols of God’s Spirit resting on the household, which is more to the point. This is what a reverent and faithful servant of God can expect; it’s what God has promised.

In the best of times, the City is busy and wealthy. In the worst of times, Jerusalem is the one place that must be defended. But the symbolism is that God must be the center of every believer’s universe. If you don’t make Him first in your life, don’t bother with the rituals of pilgrimage. With genuine faith in God, there will be a Zion and a Temple to visit every year, and you will lead your children and your grandchildren there to worship.

This is the shalom of God.

Psalm 127

Translations vary on whether Solomon wrote this himself of took it into his collection of wisdom literature. Either way, it reflects the kind of broad moral insight he had. We can be sure this wasn’t written for the annual pilgrimage. However, it was included later because, without such moral wisdom, there would be no city and temple to which they should return every year. This psalm is loaded with Ancient Near Eastern symbolism; don’t get lost in the apparent literal meaning.

God is the foundation and the blueprint of a life worth living, for both individuals and the nation as a whole. Don’t start any projects without first insuring that God is involved. And once you have built, you cannot keep it without God’s continued favor. You must choose a course that God has laid out in His revelation, or everything you do is wasted effort.

Cease striving on your own power; work smarter, not harder. Internal peace is a gift from God. Good responsible stewardship means taking care of your own sanity and health as part of the shared resources of your covenant community. There is nothing noble about a pointless sacrifice to lesser things.

But if you hear and obey the Word of God, then it would be just like a man who fathers many children while he is still young. Now that’s a job worth some extra effort, worth a little struggle early on in your life. The spawn of obedience will go far, stopping threats from a distance like archery in battle. You can never have too many arrows of that sort. They will become men before you are old, established and well known in the community. Then when you do grow old, these worthy sons can present a strong argument in your favor when opponents try to bring judgment against you.

The implication is that you’ll die in peace because you lived in shalom.

Our Crazy Ancient New Religion 3

What’s the difference between a demon and delusion?

In the Old Testament we see little mention of the Devil. He’s there in Eden, mentioned briefly in relation to Saul’s torment, Job, and a few other places. This is not the time and place for in-depth word studies, but the Hebrew text doesn’t ignore them. Rather, the Old Testament writers took it for granted demons existed. We should attempt to reclaim their attitude because it’s the one God gave them. Our biggest problem is shedding the false images typical in Western Christianity.

Further, I’m not really interested in deep theological studies here. We are looking at practical applications: What do we need to proceed with our religion? Religion is not faith, but the human application of faith. One of our biggest problems is false information on how Creation works because we have been taught to approach the Bible with false assumptions.

Given the broad collected mentions of Satan and his activities, one of the best biblical images for his position is Potiphar in Egypt (Genesis 39-40). He was Pharaoh’s “jailer,” whose mission was to take custody of the prisoners as slave labor. Based on their skills and available jobs, Potiphar could rent them out for whatever would earn him income (details varied by local custom and law). Having a noble keep the jail was a common arrangement among Ancient Near Eastern kingdoms. In many cases, the royal jailer was a very substantial noble, it could be a lucrative position. Thus, if you as a subject defy the ruler or cause him to question your loyalty, you could end up pulling a term of slavery.

The applicable part of that image is how God uses Satan as His divine “jailer.” However, there’s a subtle nuance of degrees involved: To the degree you don’t claim your full divine heritage, to that degree Satan owns you. Your eternal future is not at issue here; it’s a question of whether you live by your heart and harmonize with God’s divine character and harvest your share of shalom. The blessings God has poured on Creation for those who love Him are devoured by Satan on behalf of anyone who falls short on loyalty here in this realm of existence. Nothing Satan does can affect someone’s spiritual destiny outside this life.

John’s Apocalypse indicates in symbolic language that Satan holds authority over a third of the angelic beings (Revelation 12:4). They were swept down to the earth; it’s consistent with the Curse of the Fall, where Satan was confined to this realm of existence. His assigned task was consuming mankind insofar as they were more like dust than like God’s family. I keep reminding folks that the essence of living like dust is relying on human intellect and reason and ignoring the heart-mind. So if you return to Eden through the Flaming Sword of revelation and restore the ascendancy of your heart over your brain, you make yourself less available to the Satan’s slavery.

Restated: Conforming to the moral character of God limits Satan’s activity in your life. In a certain sense, obeying the Law Covenants will place you out of reach from the Devil. He is confined by the character of God in Creation, too. So you would naturally think the Devil will work to keep you from claiming your divine heritage. He will present claims on your blessings, and you need to stand close to Christ where God will deny his claims.

Not in the legalistic sense of Pharisaism, not to mention virtually the whole of Western thinking, but God limits Satan in a broad general sense. God is an emperor with a very complicated business of running Creation, so sometimes you’ll fall under suffering for no apparent reason (like Job), but that just means the reason is over your head. The temptation is to listen to the Devil’s lies that you somehow have gotten into hot water with God, so you need to surrender to demonic custody. Satan isn’t harmed by your false image of God and His revelation.

Up to this point in our series, we need to recall that his lies include seduction from letting your heart rule over your health and your interaction with Creation as a whole. Satan would love to make you forget that you can hear Creation’s voices. He would love to deny the truth that your heart tells you, so that the door is open for him to enslave you.

And demons are real “persons” in the sense of being individuals with varied personalities, varied powers and so forth. Satan isn’t going to discuss with you his strategy and why he chooses to assign a very nasty demon to this person — with very apparent “possession” symptoms — and others simply have to face occasional temptation to act with weakness. But deception is the primary weapon. As long as you believe his story about something, you can’t act the way God intended.

What difference does it make whether it seems very obvious this one has a demon, while that one just lives with a very sad delusion? It’s just words; there is no effective difference. Ill health in the awareness is not so different from ill health in some other part of your physical being in practical terms. Either way, the Devil has stolen your privileges.

He does it only because we listen to him; he can’t take what we don’t surrender.

Dona Nobis Pacem

I prefer amateur renderings of this song.

The title is a traditional Latin prayer: Grant us peace. It’s supposed to connect to the Old Testament shalom but few Westerners are aware of the connotations of the Hebrew word. While I often use the term “social stability,” that is a contextual image. The word shalom points to peace with God on His terms. So the Latin prayer is actually more like suing for terms of peace and surrender; that’s precisely the point.

We are convinced that our God made all things, and we call Him Creator to emphasize a different turn of mind than is common among Westerners. It’s not enough to acknowledge Him as the Maker of all things, but as the only one who knows what is going on. Our experience is that He generously offered as much revelation as we could possibly handle as humanity, and the rest is up to the individual to seize upon it.

I claim to have found this peace. Some of you share in that claim. It has become a driving force in all our blather about heart-led living, because that’s where the peace is found. It could not possibly be something static. The terms of surrender escalate as we grow to a greater understanding. In many ways, that sums up the whole of our religion. Paul wrote that he did not consider himself as having arrived, but that he is on the right path and climbing to the heights:

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 NKJV)

The climb is the prize. Peace is in the process; the thing itself is alive because it’s just a facet of your own individual communion with God. You can’t package that and sell it. You can’t teach it in finite descriptive language. It’s not a proposition; it’s Life.

I prefer that amateur rendering of the song because there is no professional worship outside the act of leading others to the same thing. When I served as Church Music Director, I avoided performing solos. My whole calling was to draw others into the experience, not to show off my vocal talent. At first that was mere instinct, but now I’m fully conscious of what drove me through all those years when I worked, often as a mere volunteer. It’s one of the few things about my passage through mainstream Christian religion that I really miss. I could ditch all of my recorded worship music if there was a way to gather with some of you and share in the communion of worship. I don’t care if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket; I want to commune with people who grasp the nature of my faith as a reflection of their own.

Somewhere out there in the future possibilities and probabilities, I sense that the day will come when I’ll find myself among fellow believers without all the trappings of what now passes for organized religion. Until then, you are my shalom family. I suspect you will still be that along with some as yet unseen physical congregation, that we’ll all be one big happy family. And I pray you’ll find yourself in similar meat-space communion. This dream isn’t dead; it keeps growing and morphing in ways I could never predict. But its life does not depend on me. I’m just a participant, a branch grafted onto the vine.

Creator, show us how to live in peace with You.