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Bible

An Army of Angels

The young girl gazes out into the desert; something is coming towards her.  It is Solomon, her lover, traveling by carriage.  He is accompanied by a protective band of weapon wielding warriors, tested and poised for whatever threat awaits them.  With Solomon — and his army — she will be protected.

In a spiritual sense, this is how it is with God and us.  He is coming towards us; with him, we will be protected.  (That doesn’t mean there won’t be risks as we journey with him, because there will.)   We will also be afforded a band of warriors, ready to battle on our behalf.  In the spiritual realm, this is an army of angels.

Centuries later, Jesus tells Satan, “Don’t you know that I could ask my Father, and right away he would send me more than twelve armies of angels?”

While we might not see angels, we have good reason to believe that they are nearby, ready to protect us from both physical threats and spiritual foes.

Our God, who loves us, will make sure we are protected.

[Song of Solomon 3:6-8, Matthew 26:53]

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Bible

Where Are You?

In the Song of Songs, the girl reveals something personal.  She is self-conscious about the dark tones of her skin (from spending too much time in the sun, she says).  She doesn’t want others to stare.

Yet the friends in this story want to do just that.  They admire her uniqueness and ask to gaze upon her.  This is ironic; the exact thing that makes her uncomfortable, others admire.

More significantly, is that her lover desires to do the same.  He says, “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.”  His love for her is revealed through his desire.

While this human love story between a man and a woman is wonderful and inviting, the underlying analogy is of the love story between God and us.  By extension, God wants to look at us; he wants to hear our voice!

If this seems strange, know that there is precedent.

You may recall that after Adam and Eve hid from God, that God sought them out, calling “Where are you?”*

I hear the same call to us today.

*Their location was not a mystery to God; he merely wanted them to come to him on their own accord — as he does of us.
[read the passages referenced above]

 

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Bible

Pursuing God Can be Risky

I have heard some claim that if you follow Jesus, all your problems will be solved and life will become an idyllic and blissful existence.

While I suppose that could be the case, I don’t reach that conclusion when I read my Bible.

In one of the more obscure passages, this is shown figuratively in The Song of Songs.

Twice, overcome in desperation to be with her lover (the king), the girl makes an ill-advised nighttime foray into the dark to find him.  Both times, she encounters watchmen.  The first occurs without incident, but the second time she is mistreated by them.  The degree of abuse is unclear, but it could be understood as severe.

Just as she is willing to risk much to be with the king she loves, so to do God’s followers take risks to be with the King they love.

And if we truly love him, no risk is too great.

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Bible

Familiar Phrases in an Unfamiliar Place

The Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) is a part of the Bible that is not often read.  Even so, three phrases jump out as being very familiar.

The first is “rose of Sharon.”  It is a beautiful and valued flower.  However, according to some translators, this eloquent phrasing should more correctly be rendered as “crocus.”  That just doesn’t carry the same punch.

Immediately following that is another flower reference, “lily of the valley.”  Lily of the valley is also a pretty flower, usually a pure white and most delicate in appearance.

What is unclear is if these images refer to the king (implying God) or to his beloved (implying us).

The third phrase is “his banner over me is love.”  This harkens to I song I remember singing as a child.  Aside from this phrase and a vague recollection of the tune, I can recall no other words to the song, but I think this is what we sang (and there are even hand motions to accompany it!)

Interestingly, all three phrases only occur once in the Bible, in the Song of Songs.

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Bible

A Biblical Screenplay

Song of Songs is commonly categorized as wisdom literature in the Bible.  With the possible exception of Job, it is not like the other wisdom books, nor like any other book in the Bible.  It is easy to imagine Song of Songs as being the lines to a play that King Solomon wrote to both entertain and teach his people.  As such, Song of Songs may be more akin to a modern-day screenplay than anything else.

There are three characters in this play, the beloved (the girl), the lover (the king), and the friends (think of them as the “chorus”).  Headings, indicating the three parts, are inserted in some versions to reflect the pronouns used in the original Hebrew text, though some of the delineations between speakers are not absolute.

The book can be read straight through as a narrative or the various speakers (lover, beloved, and friends) can be pulled out read individually to gain a better understanding of each character.  In doing so,

  • the lover mostly upholds and celebrates her beauty,
  • the beloved mostly talks about her deep yearning for him and desire to be with him, and
  • the words of the “friends” often provide a transition or information for the play.

In reading the words of the lover (the king), we can gain insight into God’s love for us and how he views us.

In focusing on the words of the beloved (the girl), we get a glimpse of what our response to God should rightly be.

Reading the Song of Songs with this perspective, gives me much to consider.

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Bible

The Song of Songs

After my prior post about the number one hit that used the Bible for lyrics, you may thing that it is the “song of songs.”  Not so.  There is another.  You may have heard the book in the Bible, Song of Solomon.  It is sometimes called the “Song of Songs.”  (A more comprehensive title might be “Solomon’s Song of Songs.”)

Song of Songs can be thought of as a “biblical erotica,” albeit a PG 13 version.  It is a bit explicit and somewhat suggestive, but in a literary way.

Song of Songs is a tale a passionate love affair between the king and his lover.  The king is Solomon and his lover is foreign royalty (she is described has a “Shulammite” and a “prince’s daughter).

However, in addition to this real life drama, Song of Songs is also points to a passionate spiritual love affair between God and his people.  (In the New Testament, this love affair is even more specific, being between Jesus and the church, who is his spiritual bride.)

As such, Song of Songs can be read and appreciated on two levels: a personal love story between two people and a spiritual saga of God’s desire for his people (us) and the way he longs for us to respond.

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Bible

The Error of Edom

The short book of Obadiah is a stinging rebuke to the nation of Edom, not for what they overtly did, but for what they did indirectly: for a failure to act, for smug attitudes, and for capitalizing on the wrong actions of others.  Even though they did not directly do wrong, the outcome is quite clear:

“As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”

A few centuries later, Paul teaches the same lesson:

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.”

Hosea phrases this in the positive:

“Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love”

However, Jesus said it best:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you…For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

More succinctly, in what we call the Golden Rule, Jesus also said:

“Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

Yes, good words to live by.

[Obadiah 1:11-15, Galatians 6:7, Hosea 10:12, Luke 6:37-39, Matthew 7:12]

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Bible

Q and A with God

In the short book of Malachi, there is a reoccurring phrase “but you ask” (along with a few of variations thereof).  This turns into a Question and Answer monologue, with God voicing the people’s unspoken questions and then responding; Malachi records the whole thing.  Although Malachi’s culture is vastly different from our reality, there are still lessons we can learn — if we are willing.

Q: How have you loved us?
A: Consider your ancestors Jacob and Esau.  I loved Jacob and hated Esau.  Do you get it now?  [Malachi 1:2-3]

Q: How have we shown contempt for your name?
A: By giving me defiled offerings. [Malachi 1:6-7]

Q: How have we defiled you?
A: By giving to me what is not suitable for anyone else. [Malachi 1:7-8]

Q: Why do you no longer pay attention to our offerings or accept them?
A: You have been unfaithful to your wife and broken your marriage vows. 
[Malachi 2:13-14]

Q: How have we wearied you?
A: By doing bad, yet claiming it is good and pleases me.  [Malachi 2:17]

Q: How are we to return to you?
A: Stop robbing me.  [Malachi 3:7-8]

Q: How do we rob you?
A: By withholding some of your tithes and offerings.  [Malachi 3:8-10]

Q: What have we said against you?
A: By saying it is futile to serve me when I don’t bless you for doing what is expected.  [Malachi 3:13-14]

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Bible

How to Treat One Another

Consider how the Bible teaches us to treat one another:

Love one another [John 13:34, John 13:35, Romans 13:8, 1 Peter 1:22, 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23, 1 John 4:7, 1 John 4:11, 1 John 4:12, 2 John 1:5]

Accept one another [Romans 15:7]

Instruct one another [Romans 15:14]

Submit to one another [Ephesians 5:21]

Forgive one another [Colossians 3:13]

Teach one another [Jeremiah 9:20]

Teach and admonish one another [Colossians 3:16]

Encourage one another [Judges 20:22, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:25]

Agree with one another [1 Corinthians 1:10]

Fellowship with one another [1 John 1:7]

Give to one another [Esther 9:22]

Live in harmony with one another [Romans 12:16, 1 Peter 3:8]

Be kind and compassionate to one another [Ephesians 4:32]

Serve one another in love [Galatians 5:13]

Bear with one another in love [Ephesians 4:2]

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love [Romans 12:10a]

Honor one another above yourselves [Romans 12:10b]

Greet one another with a kiss of love [1 Peter 5:14]

Greet one another with a holy kiss [Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12]

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs [Ephesians 5:19]

Spur one another on toward love and good deeds [Hebrews 10:24]

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling [1 Peter 4:9]

Administer justice, show mercy and compassion to one another [Zechariah 7:9]

Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another [1 Peter 5:5]

Do not deceive one another [Leviticus 19:11]

Do not break faith with one another [Malachi 2:10]

Do not degrade your bodies with one another [Romans 1:24]

Do not lust for one another [Romans 1:27]

Stop judging one another [Romans 14:13]

Do not hate one another [Titus 3:3]

Do not slander one another [James 4:11]

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Bible

A Hard Man

Doctor Luke records a parable of Jesus.  It is about a noble man who, before going on a journey, entrusts three servants with varying amounts of money to invest for him.   The first two invest their amounts and earn a good return, apparently doubling their stakes.  The third however, to whom little is entrusted, makes no effort to invest it.  He lazily does nothing and merely returns the original amount to his master.  This is done under the guise of keeping it safe, calling his master a “hard man.”  The master judges him accordingly, taking the money away from him and giving it to the first servant.

Although we must guard against reading too much into a parable, the noble man in this one parallels God.  When the servant declares that the noble is a “hard man,” is this a characteristic that we can apply to God?  At first glance it is difficult, perhaps even seeming sacrilegious, to call God “hard,” but is there truth that can be gleaned form this?  In balancing the paradox of a God of love with a God whom we fear, does a “hard” God fit somewhere into the picture of who he is?

For those who think God will give them a free pass regardless of how they act or what they do, the image of God as hard, that is a strict God, might be a good characteristic for them to ponder.

However, there are also those who view God as mean and vindictive, just waiting for them to mess up so that he can inflict ill-will upon them.  Their view of God is already way too “hard”; they will do well to focus on his loving nature instead.

Yes, God does have a hard side to him, but that’s not all there is to him; he is also loving and gentle.

[Luke 19:11-27]