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Christian Natural Health

Christian Natural Health is the podcast that teaches you about natural health from a biblical perspective. I'm Dr. Lauren Deville, a practicing naturopathic physician in Tucson, AZ. In this podcast, my guests and I will cover topics ranging from nutrition, sleep, hormone balancing and exercise, to specific health concerns like hair loss, anxiety, and hypothyroidism. Once a week, I'll include a bonus episode, meditating on a Bible verse or passage. I'll also interweave biblical principles as they apply throughout the podcast--because true health is body, mind, and spirit. Learn more about me at http://www.drlaurendeville.com/
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Oct 23, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation on Psalm 37. God is still on the throne!

Background music courtesy of bensound.com

Oct 16, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, Melatonin for Pain.

Oct 9, 2020

Today's meditation is on Jesus cursing the fig tree, but the retelling covers Matthew 21:1-22, Mark 11:1-24, Luke 19:28-47, and John 12:1-19.

Introduction
 
The context of this event is very important: Jesus has just ridden into Jerusalem for the last time on the first Palm Sunday. The people have all heard about Lazarus’s resurrection and turn out in droves, crying “Hosanna in the highest!”, carpeting the road before him with their cloaks and with palm branches like they did for the kings of old—effectively declaring Him king and Messiah. How heartbreaking that must have been for Jesus: He so desperately wanted the love and allegiance of His people, and they appeared to be giving it to Him; yet He knew that not only would they turn on Him, many of them would even cry out for His blood in less than a week. 
 
His emotions are running high. Right after the initial encounter with the fig tree (by Mark’s depiction), Jesus enters the Temple of Jerusalem and finds it overrun with commerce, just as John’s gospel tells us it was at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. This fills Him with righteous indignation, and he turns over the tables just as he did the first time, driving out the sellers and money changers. The Temple supposed to be the place of prayer and worship to the Father, and yet His people have turned it into something mercenary. He knows His earthly ministry is coming to a close. He’s done all He can do, and here’s evidence that the Jews’ hearts are still hardened. 
 
The fig tree was a symbol of Israel (Hosea 9:10, Jeremiah 8:13 and chapter 24, Micah 4:4, Luke 13:6-9). In Jesus’ parable of the fig tree in Luke 13, after three years (the length of Jesus’ own ministry to the Jews), it is barren, not producing fruit (of repentance, of righteousness). The owner wants to chop it down, while the dresser of the vineyard pleads that it should be given special treatment for a bit longer. If it is still unfruitful, then it should be chopped down—as in fact happens when Jerusalem is sacked by the Roman army in 70 A.D. Meanwhile, the apostles spread the gospel to the Gentiles. 
 
So when Jesus sees the fig tree with leaves, which should mean that it is bearing fruit (the figs precede the leaves on a fig tree, at least on the variety that grow in Jerusalem), and then He finds that it is barren, he curses it. I’m sure that this was not just because He was hungry and frustrated in his attempt to eat; to Him it was probably another symbolic representation of the spiritual state of Israel. By and large, they still had not received Him.
 
Yet this event turned into one of Jesus’ clearest teachings to the disciples on the subject of faith. Matthew’s account indicates that the fig tree withered immediately, while Mark shows a delay: a day after Jesus curses it, they pass by the tree and find it withered. The two accounts can be harmonized with Jesus’ subsequent teaching in Mark 11:23-24: “For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” 
 
Several important points here: first, Jesus says to speak directly to the mountain (or as he did: to the fig tree). Not to pray to God about your mountain. Second, he must believeand not doubt. If believing automatically excluded doubt, He would not have made this distinction—so it is possible to believe and to doubt at the same time (as was implied in the Parable of the Sower, Mark 4:3-20, and James 1:6-8). The doubt can negate the faith, working in the opposite direction for a net effect of zero. Third, he should believe he receiveswhen he prays, not when he sees the manifestation. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Fourth, the manifestation may not be instantaneous, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t already been done (Mark 4:28). In this case, Matthew said that the tree withered instantly while Mark said it was the next day. Both are true: the tree instantly died at the root, but it took a day for the results to manifest on the visible parts of the tree. Even though Jesus did not see instant manifestation of His words, He did not doubt that it was already done. When the disciples passed by the next day and saw that the tree was withered, Peter pointed it out to Jesus in amazement. Jesus was probably exasperated when he replied, “Have faith in God,” to this. Remember, this is the last few days of His earthly ministry. He’s passing the baton to these disciples, and for three years now He has tried to impart these same ideas to them… yet Peter’s amazement indicates that He still hasn’t gotten it. 
 
Fictionalized Retelling
 
The energy of the crowd was palpable, the dull roar of their excited chatter at a fever’s pitch. Jesus had stopped them between Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. His throat was thick with emotion as he instructed Matthew and Bartholomew, “Go into the village opposite you,” here he pointed to Bethphage, “and as soon as you have entered it you will find a donkey and a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose them and bring them. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ’The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them here.”
 
The two disciples nodded and hastened to obey. Jesus waited for them now, standing aloof from the rest of his disciples, and from the crowd. 
 
How many of them knew that he was doing this in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9? he wondered. He had told his disciples over and over again that he was going to his death, but he knew they didn’t understand what he meant. They thought it was a euphemism for something else. Particularly now, when he was surrounded by adoring worshippers, all bubbling over with excitement that their king was about to enter Jerusalem. 
 
This was the culmination of his earthly ministry. The earth had been waiting for this moment, for the King of Kings to enter the Holy City in glory, since the fall of man in the Garden. There was almost a “charge" in the air, of the spirit converging upon the physical; the people could do nothing but worship. Yet these same people would turn on him and cry out for his blood in less than a week. 
 
He felt so very alone. 
 
Thank you, Father, he prayed silently, that You never leave me or forsake me. 
 
Normally people crowded Jesus everywhere he went, but something about His troubled expression today must have put them off. Many instead clustered around the exuberant Bartimaeus, whom Jesus had healed of blindness just a few hours earlier. He and his formerly blind friend had since cast off their beggar’s cloaks and joined his entourage. Of the two, Bartimaeus was by far the more gregarious, and he entertained the crowds. He seemed a born performer.
 
Matthew and Bartholomew returned, leading the colt and the donkey to Jesus by the reins. The people saw this, and immediately understood that they were about to head into the city now. They got busy, excitedly throwing their cloaks over the animals’ backs for Jesus to sit upon. Some of the people threw their cloaks in the road, an ancient Jewish practice for welcoming a conquering king. Others cried out, “Palm branches too!” This was a reference to a wider cultural practice of the same, and it met with great enthusiasm. The crowd scurried about, retrieving fallen palm branches and snapping or sawing off those that they could reach from nearby palm trees.
 
Jesus meanwhile mounted the colt. It meekly accepted his weight, despite the fact that it was unbroken. Matthew and Bartholomew raised their eyebrows and exchanged a look at this, impressed, but said nothing. Beside the colt which Jesus rode, John led the donkey by the reins like a groomsman. As his most empathic disciple, Jesus suspected that John sensed his mood and lingered nearby for emotional support. He felt a rush of affection for his friend. 
 
As Jesus began the journey, the people spread the branches they had collected on the ground before the colt along with their cloaks, and began to shout, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 
 
From oldest to youngest, they all picked up this refrain as Jesus began his last ride into Jerusalem. The people danced and sang, and once he’d passed over cloaks and palms, they picked them up again and ran forward, laying them on the road before him. Jesus’ chest constricted with conflicting emotions. The people who worshipped him now did so genuinely; and yet, their hearts were the stony ground of his parable. They were those who would immediately receive the word with gladness, but when tribulation or persecution arose, they would stumble and scatter. It would come all too soon. 
 
The commotion of Jesus’ entourage drew a crowd of onlookers from Bethany as they descended the Mount of Olives, whispering among themselves. Jesus knew what they were saying. Many asked who he was that drew such a response. Others, the scribes and Pharisees who joined the onlookers, murmured amongst themselves against him. Finally, one of them cried out, “Teacher, do you hear what these are saying? Rebuke your disciples!” 
 
Jesus looked at the one who had shouted and replied in as steady a tone as he could manage, “Yes, I hear. I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones themselves would cry out.” 
 
The Pharisee who heard him turned to his fellows with furious grumbling. Jesus turned away, and from his position on the slope of the Mount of Olives, he saw Jerusalem spread out before him in the distance. The tears that he had kept at bay until then sprung unbidden to his eyes, and spilled over his cheeks. Most of the people did not notice, but John did, and placed his free hand on Jesus’ shoulder in comfort. Jesus cast him a quick, sad smile, and then looked back at the city. 
 
“If you had known,” he whispered, “even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” He saw it all by the Spirit: the sacking of the city by the Romans in about forty years. It didn’t have to happen. After all of the Father’s promises to the Jewish nation under the Mosaic covenant, if they would obey… after he paid with his blood for a new Covenant that would not even require their physical obedience as such, only their love and worship… his stiff-necked people would still reject him. And with him, they would reject his blessing and protection, and would be scattered to the four corners of the earth. It broke his heart. 
 
The sun began its descent in the sky just as Jesus descended the mountain, the crowd still crying out behind and before him. The journey was only two miles, but with the entourage on foot, retrieving the branches and cloaks from behind and laying them again before him, it was a slow procession. 
 
Once they entered Jerusalem, though, more onlookers gathered and whispered. Jesus, now giving the donkey the opportunity to bear his weight, steered it toward the Temple at nightfall. He narrowed his eyes and gritted his teeth. Most of the customers had gone, and the merchants’ booths were closing up for the night. 
 
“We will come back here first thing tomorrow morning,” he growled to his disciples.
 
Peter and Andrew were nearest him when he said this, and nodded, understanding what he meant. They had been with him at the beginning of his ministry, when he had once before overturned tables of the money-changers and those who were buying and selling, and driven them out of the Temple. Now, three years later, they were back to all their old practices. They knew what was coming. 
 
“Lord, should we return to Lazarus’s home for the night?” John suggested, as he looked around. “Most of the crowd has dispersed, so I’m sure we could return a lot faster than we came.” 
 
Jesus sighed, troubled and weary. “Yes, let us go back. I do wish to be among friends tonight.” 
 
As they passed by Bethphage, Bartholomew and Matthew returned the colt and the donkey to their owners, with Jesus’ thanks. Mary pressed Jesus and his disciples to stay with them every night of their sojourn in Jerusalem, if they so chose. 
 
In the morning, the disciples rose before Lazarus and his sisters, mostly because Jesus did not wish for Martha particularly to feel obligated to feed all thirteen of them breakfast. So on their return journey to Jerusalem on foot the next morning, they were hungry. As they went, Jesus spied a curious sight: a fig tree in the distance already bore leaves, though it was not the season for figs. Fig trees typically bore figs before leaves, though, so this one seemed to promise a good breakfast for them all. Jesus veered off the path to the tree, and the others followed. But when he came to the tree, he found it barren: there was nothing but leaves.
 
He closed his eyes for a second as the symbolism of this hit him.
 
“I saw your fathers as the first fruits on the fig tree in its first season,” he quoted to himself in a whisper. “Yet now, ‘no grapes shall be on the vine, nor figs on the fig tree, and the leaf shall fade; and the things I have given them shall pass away from them.’” He opened his eyes again, envisioning what he knew he was about to encounter in the Temple and suddenly shaking with rage. He responded to the fig tree, “Let no one eat fruit from you ever again!” 
 
Then he marched on inexorably toward the Temple, so fast that the disciples had no almost jog to keep up with him. No one said a word for the rest of the journey, partly because they dared not when Jesus was in such a mood, and partly because they had no extra breath for it. 
 
Jesus burst into the outer courts of the Temple without breaking his stride, and went straight to the nearest booth, in which merchant and customer were exchanging coins. The two of them looked up only when he was almost upon them, and had just time enough for their eyes to widen and to duck for cover as Jesus lifted the table and tossed it on its side, coins jingling to the ground all around them. 
 
“Out!” he shouted, seething with rage as all the people scattered away from him. He turned to the next nearest table, one selling doves for sacrifice. The doves’ wings beat in their cages in terror, and flew to the tops of them just in time, as Jesus lifted the booth and all its wares in a mighty heave, sending it all crashing to the ground. The squawking of the doves mingled with the angry shouts of the merchants, but Jesus was louder than them all. 
 
“You there!” he shouted, pointing at another merchant who had tried to pass unnoticed behind the onlooking crowds, his arms heavy with wares. “Out! Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves!’” 
 
The customers beat a path to the door, now congested with merchants also trying to escape. None of them dared to confront Jesus. The scribes and the Pharisees alone lingered in their wake, consulting one another in angry whispers. Jesus knew what they plotted against him. He further knew that in a matter of days, he would willingly submit to their schemes by the will of the Father; for a short while, they would believe they had succeeded. He turned to glare at them now, though, as if daring them to speak aloud what they only had the courage to whisper. 
 
Meanwhile, a young man ventured tentatively into the outer court of the Temple, leading a blind beggar by the hand. The beggar was one they all recognized. He had sat outside the Temple, begging for alms for many years. The pair hesitated, the young man looking anxiously at Jesus. 
 
Jesus turned away from the Pharisees and saw the young man and the beggar, his face instantly softening. He reached out an arm and beckoned them forward. The young man’s face flooded with hope.
 
“Is… is it all right?” asked the young man. “Would you heal him?” 
 
“The answer to that is always yes,” Jesus replied. “Come.” 
 
The disciples watched and marveled as the atmosphere in the outer courts changed in minutes. Word must have spread throughout Jerusalem that Jesus had come to the Temple, and that he was healing all those brought to him. Soon the crowds were so thick that they could barely move inside the outer courts, and they spilled outside onto the streets. As it was on most days of Jesus’ ministry, he healed everyone who came to him, for many hours. The blind saw. The lame walked. The children cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” 
 
The Pharisees gnashed their teeth as they heard this, and elbowed through the crowd just as Jesus laid hands on an invalid boy and he sat up again, grinning at Jesus. 
 
“Teacher! Do you hear what these are saying?” they demanded, indignant. 
 
Jesus, still grinning back at the boy as he gave him back to his mother, did not bother to even look at the Pharisee who had spoken to him. He responded, still smiling but his voice now hard, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants you have perfected praise’?” 
 
“That verse reads ‘strength,’ not praise,” the Pharisee muttered back.
 
“You do not realize that the two words are interchangeable,” Jesus replied. “Their strength is found in their praise of me.” 
 
When the hour was late and the people at last dispersed, Jesus and his disciples wearily made their way back to Bethany once more. They had inadvertently fasted all day, simply because they never had the opportunity to get away to eat. But Martha, bless her, would be expecting them for dinner, though they arrived well after nightfall. 
 
They made their way back into the city the next morning. On their way, Peter happened to glance at the fig tree that Jesus had cursed. He blinked at it, astonished. 
 
“Rabbi, look!” he pointed. “The fig tree which you cursed has withered away!” 
 
Jesus too looked astonished, but at Peter, not at the tree. He had been with them now for three years. He had less than a week left on earth. After all they had seen, did they yet not understand? 
 
I must be yet more explicit, Jesus thought, pausing to steady himself before he answered. “Have faith in God,” he said, very clearly. “For assuredly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain,” he pointed at the Mount of Olives behind them, “‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.”
 
Jesus kept walking as the disciples hung back, puzzling among themselves what he meant by this. He knew what they were thinking. He couldn’t really have meant he could speak to the mountain and remove it. That was a figure of speech, surely. Did he really mean you should believe you have what you ask for the moment you ask? Even if things look exactly the same in the natural? No, he couldn’t have meant that… well if he didn’t mean that, why did he say that? What did he mean, then? I don’t know, why don’t you ask him? …Me? Why don’t YOU ask him?
 
Jesus sighed, and prayed to the Holy Spirit, When You come, You’ll remind them, of this, and of everything I’ve said and done. He prayed this mostly to encourage and remind himself. They don’t understand now, but they don’t have You living inside of them yet to help them. By themselves, they can do nothing. But when they have You, they will understand all these things. It will be enough. 
 
The Holy Spirit replied, Yes. It will be enough. They seem weak and confused now. Yet with these men, I will set the world on fire.
Oct 2, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, The Redox (Oxidation/Reduction) pathways

Sep 25, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation/retelling of the first Passover, and Moses parting the Red Sea found in Exodus 11-14. 

Here's the transcript: 

It was evening. The people of Israel had just finished the meal as prescribed by the Lord, of roasted lamb, unleavened bread, and bitter herbs. I knew the meal was heavy with symbolism, but I didn’t understand what it symbolized—and quite frankly, I didn’t care. I was too nervous about what was to come for curiosity. 
 
Aaron and I wandered amongst the Israelites and supervised as they completed the last and most important portion of the Lord’s instructions: each family dipped bunches of hyssop in a basin containing the blood of the Passover lamb they had just slaughtered, and painted the blood across their doorposts. I wanted to make very sure that every single Israelite family did this, and did it thoroughly.  If there were over 3million people I wonder how Moses could have watched every house?
 
Beside me, Aaron chuckled darkly and smacked me on the arm. “Are you seeing all this plunder?” he murmured, and I followed where he pointed to a pair of Hebrew sisters, arms so laden with Egyptian family heirlooms of gold and silver that they could hardly walk. Then he called out to the sisters, “Did you leave anything in their house at all?” 
 
“Not much,” one sister grinned back. The other added, “I’ve served this family my whole life, and I’ve always admired their silver bowls and this golden diadem—so I asked for them, and they just-- gave it to me! They practically begged me to take all the rest!”
 
I offered the giddy sisters a distracted smile. “Have you painted your doorposts?” 
 
“Yes of course, we completed that first,” one replied, sobering up. I glanced down at their clothing: all the Israelites already wore the prescribed belt around their waists, sandals on their feet, and those who had a hand free carried their staffs as well. I glanced up at the darkening sky. 
 
“Everyone get inside!” I bellowed, and those outside scampered to obey. Aaron gave me a slight reproving look. 
 
“The Lord said midnight,” he murmured, “it’s barely dusk. No need to scare them.”
 
“You saw the last nine plagues,” I returned under my breath. “I am afraid of the Lord. Aren’t you?” 
 
It was a rhetorical question, and Aaron took it as such. We made our way back to the hut where my siblings Aaron and Miriam grew up, and I noted that Miriam had already painted our doorway with the blood of our Passover lamb. With one last look around to verify that the rest of the Israelites were safely shut inside their homes under their banners of blood, I ducked inside and closed the door. 
 
Aaron’s wife Elisheba and his four sons stood in the middle of the hut, staffs in hand. Elisheba watched me with wide eyes: anxious, but not quite frightened, which was how I felt. Miriam paced. 
 
“Should we try to get some sleep? A few hours at least?” Aaron suggested, putting an arm absently around his son Eleazar’s shoulders. 
 
We all looked at each other. None of us felt like sleeping. 
 
“I suppose we should try,” Miriam ventured. 
 
The hut was small for all of us. The boys, now in their late teen years, lay on the ground back to back. Aaron put his arm around Elisheba, and they leaned up against the wall and closed their eyes, staffs leaning upon the wall beside them. Miriam and I chose opposite walls and did the same. I stretched my legs out in front of me and closed my eyes. A few minutes later, I bent my knees. Then I leaned forward against my legs instead of against the wall. Then I folded my arms and tried to rest my head against them. Every few minutes for what felt like hours, I changed position—but it was no use. What time was it? I wished I could peer outside to tell. Was the Angel of Death passing over now? Were the firstborn children all over Egypt even now breathing their last? 
 
Then the wailing began. Someone had awoken in the night. One cry became several, and then a chorus. Miriam, Aaron and I looked at each other: it was a discordant choir. Surely every man, woman, and child in Israel had been awakened by the sound, and knew what it meant. 
 
Some time later, a fist pounded on the door of our hut. I was already on my feet, and answered mid-knock. One of Pharaoh’s officials stood at the threshold, his face ashen. He looked not at me, but at the blood painted upon the lintel. Then his haunted eyes met mine. He and I had never spoken before, as Aaron always spoke directly to Pharaoh on my behalf, but he had seen me in the throne room many times since the whole ordeal had begun. The official swallowed. 
 
“None… have perished… within this house,” he said, his voice quavering. “Have they?” 
 
“Of course not,” I replied, matter of fact. I held on to the outside of the door, waiting for what I knew he would say next. 
 
“Of course not,” he repeated in a whisper, eyes cast down to my feet. Then he swallowed again, and said, “I bring word from Pharaoh. He says, 'rise, go out from among my people, both you and the children of Israel. And go, serve the Lord as you have said. Also take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone; and... bless me also.’” The official ended his statement with a whispered plea, and then turned those haunted eyes back upon mine, as if begging for himself rather than for his sovereign. I placed a hand on the man’s shoulder, bowed my head, and prayed silently to the Lord for him. Then I turned to find my family already on their feet and ready to go, staffs in hand. Miriam and Elisheba had each bound up their kneading bowls under their cloaks, containing the unleavened bread, while the boys distributed their share of the plunder from their Egyptian neighbors among their things. 
 
The Israelites came out of their homes at the ready, as their neighbors either knocked or called. The nearby Egyptians heard the commotion and came out of their homes, every last face streaked with tears and horror. We assembled too slowly for them. 
 
“Go!” shrieked one grieving mother at our growing ranks. “Get out of here, go!” Another man added, “We shall all be dead if you linger a minute longer! Go!” 
 
I ignored their shouts, waiting until Aaron could verify for me that all the Israelites were alerted and assembled. I saw Miriam wiping tears from her cheeks in empathy for their Egyptian neighbors, but I could muster no sympathy for them. Had I not warned them? Had I not told them how to protect themselves from the Destroyer? After nine previous plagues, did they not think I meant what I said? In fact there were a few Egyptians who had heeded my warning, who had been circumcised, eaten the Passover meal with us and who had taken refuge inside our blood-painted homes with their families. Those few proselytes had seen and feared the power of the Lord and decided to join our ranks, to leave Egypt with us and go with us to the Promised Land. These grieving men and women could have done the same, had they chosen to do so. 
 
I looked up at the sky, estimating that it was perhaps an hour after midnight when we finally began our exodus out of Egypt. Just before we left, Aaron handed me my cargo wrapped in linen, and I tied it between my shoulders. While the others took treasures from their neighbors or their kneading bowls of unleavened bread, I carried the exhumed bones of the patriarch Joseph. He had exacted a promise at his death that his descendants would take his bones back to the Promised Land upon our exodus, which he knew would occur based upon the promise the Lord had made to his great grandfather, Abraham. 
 
“So…” Miriam whispered to me, “none of us have ever seen this Promised Land before, including you. How exactly do we know where to go?” 
 
I had just been wondering this myself, when Aaron nodded to me that the people were all accounted for: six hundred thousand men, plus women, children, flocks, and herds. We would not be moving quickly. Staff in hand, I turned back to begin our hike, and startled to see a pillar of fire hovering in midair, blazing and crackling just far enough ahead of me to keep the heat from becoming uncomfortable. My mouth fell open. When I’d recovered myself, I turned to Miriam, gesturing at the pillar.
 
“There’s your answer,” I told her. 
 
The Lord, as the pillar of fire, led us from Rameses to Succoth, some eight miles away. When dawn came, the pillar began to fade away, and I wondered if the Lord meant to lead us only by night. But in its place, a pillar of cloud appeared, guiding us on. It vanished in late morning, once we had reached Succoth. I took that as our cue to give the children and elderly a rest.  We were all exhausted, though, both emotionally and physically: few of us had slept at all before our journey began. But miraculously, of the millions of people in our group, there was not one feeble person among them. The women unwrapped their kneading bowls, heated coals, and baked unleavened cakes from the dough for the morning meal, while as many as were able napped or rested. 
 
Aaron sat beside me as we ate, looking out in the direction of the now fabled Promised Land, the land that the Lord had told us flowed with milk and honey.
 
“That way is Philistine country,” Aaron murmured unnecessarily. I nodded. 
 
“The Lord has already spoken to me that He will not lead them that way.” 
 
Aaron shrugged. “It is by far the shortest route…” 
 
“I know that, but the Lord is concerned that if we immediately lead the people into war, they will change their minds and retreat back to Egypt. He will take them to the wilderness and toward the Red Sea.” 
 
Aaron looked back over his shoulder at the mixed multitude, including many women, children, and elderly, and pursed his lips. “That’s true. Soldiers, these are not.” 
 
“It doesn’t matter if they are soldiers or not,” I retorted, perhaps a bit more harshly than I’d intended. “The Lord fights our battles for us, regardless. We do not even need weapons. But the people do not understand that yet. They have seen the Lord’s works, but they do not understand His ways, as we do. They do not know His character, and so they cannot predict what He will do next. They cannot trust Him, as we can.”
 
Aaron was a bit taken aback by this, catching my emphasis. “Yes, brother,” he repeated at last. “As we can.” 
 
When the people were refreshed enough to continue, the cloud reappeared. Aaron and I again took the lead, and the cloud took us from Succoth to Etham. At dusk, Aaron, Miriam and I watched in appreciative amazement as tendrils of flame licked through the cloud at dusk, transforming it to the pillar of fire before our eyes. The pillar stopped at Etham, where we camped that night at the edge of the wilderness. 
 
The next several days were much the same: walking through the wilderness at a very slow pace behind the pillar of alternate cloud and fire, stopping to rest and camp for the night. I did not need to know where I was going, so I was surprised when the Lord spoke to me on the third day. 
 
Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea, He said. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.
 
I pictured the land the Lord meant, puzzling over His instructions silently: mountains on two sides, and the Red Sea on a third, with Pharaoh’s army blocking our only route of escape. It must have shown on my face.
 
“What is it?” Aaron asked me. “You’re frowning.” I told him what the Lord had said, and my brother’s eyebrows shot up. “Pharaoh is going to… pursue?” he balked. 
 
“Shh!” I looked around this way and that, to make sure none of the Israelites had overheard. “Yes, apparently. Remember I originally asked him to let us journey three days into the wilderness only? Only a fool would expect us to return after all that has happened, but perhaps he still does. Clearly Pi Hahiroth is not on the way back to Egypt, and it will signal to Pharaoh that we’re not coming back… but it sounds like the Lord also wants to entice him to follow us by making us look like easy prey.” 
 
Aaron let out a puff of air through pursed lips, and dragged his hand across his face and beard. “Yes, but then what? We will be easy prey.”
 
“No,” I said fiercely, pinning him with my gaze. “We will not, because the Lord is on our side!” 
 
“So, what, you think He’s going to mow down Pharaoh’s army for us?” Aaron demanded. “You think he’s going to—what, part the sea so we can walk through it?” His tone of scoffing incensed me. 
 
“I do not know how He is going to deliver us, but yes, after the ten plagues, and the pillar of cloud and fire, and the willing plunder of our captors? I do believe He is going to deliver us. As should you!” 
 
Aaron blinked at me, looking at once skeptical and chagrined. He held up his hands. 
 
“We do as the Lord commands. Of course.” 
 
So I went and told the Israelites where we were going, but not why. No one asked. They blindly trusted that I knew best—until anything appeared to go wrong. Then they all turned on me, as I knew full well. I wasn’t looking forward to that part. 
 
When we arrived at Pi Hahiroth, and some of the men of Israel saw the tactical disadvantage of such a camp, I could feel their restless energy, and thought I overheard some of their rebellious grumbles. None had the courage to directly challenge me, though a few approached Aaron. I saw him speaking to them in low, earnest whispers. Still, they went away looking dissatisfied. Dusk fell, and the pillar of cloud became a pillar of fire. It hemmed us in against the sea. 
 
Then we heard the hoofbeats, and the rumble of chariot wheels. My heart beat faster. This was it.
 
At first, before the Israelites admitted to themselves what it was, they simply seemed to grow more agitated. But as it grew louder, and when at last they could see the Egyptian army beyond the pillar of fire, the wailing and the pandemonium began. 
 
“Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness?” they cried out, and “Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?” and, “Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness!” Women cried out and tore their clothing. All around us the people wept and trembled and raged. I had never had a strong voice; that was why I had pleaded with the Lord to allow my brother to be my mouthpiece. Fortunately, he did so now.
 
“SILENCE!” Aaron thundered, his rich baritone suddenly amplified and echoing with such supernatural authority that the stunned people actually obeyed. In the brief lull that followed, Aaron turned to me, and gave me a small nod of his head. 
 
I cleared my throat, and raised my arms. Then, with more confidence than I had ever heard in my own voice before, I cried out, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace!” 
 
Then silently I added as I watched the army approaching, Okay, Lord. Now would be a good time. 
 
The Lord responded to my spirit, Why do you cry to Me?
 
I blinked, watching as the army drew closer. I should think that is obvious, I told Him.  
 
I gave you the rod, did I not? The Lord replied. My power is in your hand. Use it! Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea. And I indeed will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them. So I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, his chariots, and his horsemen. Then the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained honor for Myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.
 
So the Lord did indeed intend for us to go through the sea! I wondered if that had been His intention all along, or if He did that just because Aaron had mocked the idea. It otherwise certainly never would have occurred to me. 
 
The army halted before the pillar of fire that divided them from us. I had the impression that the Lord had hidden us from their sight, though fire should have illuminated us instead. 
 
“What are you doing?” Aaron hissed as I marched toward the Red Sea. 
 
“Exactly what you suggested,” I hissed back. 
 
“Which is what?” 
 
“Parting the Red Sea.” 
 
Aaron gave a short snort of laughter. Then he saw my face in profile, hard as stone. “You’re serious.” 
 
I held up the rod with a quick glance at my brother. “Watch me.” Then I stopped at the edge of the waters, and did as the Lord commanded: I stretched out my hand over the waters. 
 
Suddenly a howling gust of wind seemed to blow from my staff, straight down into the waters to the sea floor. The waters peeled back layer by layer, as if they had been cut with a knife, rising like pillars to the right and to the left. The land at the bottom of the sea appeared, filled with coral and seaweed and mud. An instant more, and the sea bed dried up completely. 
 
I stood there gaping for a moment, forgetting to breathe. What a sight! Was it real? Was it possible? 
 
Then I remembered I was far from alone. With a quick glance over my shoulder, I beckoned Aaron with a gesture of my head. He practically had to scrape his jaw off the ground, but he recovered himself, in turn beckoning the people to follow. 
 
I led the people through the sea, looking in amazement at the sight of the pillars of water on either side of us. A few unfortunate fish flopped on the dry ground at our feet. Miriam took pity on the ones she came across, and picked them up with her fingers, tossing them back into the walls of water. I overheard some of the delighted squeals of the children as they found starfish and lovely pieces of coral. The sound brought tears to my eyes, as I pictured those same children as adults, telling their own children, “Yes, this is a very special starfish! I found it on the dry seabed of the Red Sea, when the Lord led us through and delivered us from our enemies!” 
 
All night we crossed, as the wind continued to blow, whipping our hair and robes all around us. I glanced back behind us several times, and saw that at the far back of our company, the pillar of fire brought up the rear, hiding and guarding the people from Pharaoh still. Beyond that, I thought I saw that, incredibly, Pharaoh had pursued us. 
 
“They’re actually coming after us,” Miriam said to me under her breath. “Pharaoh and his army! He sees that the Lord parted the Red Sea for us, and he’s still pursuing! How stupid is he?” 
 
Behind me, I heard the people’s shrieks of terror. “They’re going to catch us!” women cried, and men shouted at me, “Should we go back and fight? Moses! Moses!” 
 
I gritted my teeth, ignoring them and staring straight ahead. The sea floor had already begun its sloping ascent to the shore, though I estimated that shore was probably another hour’s march ahead, given the speed and number of the Israelites. It was true: we were incredibly slow, and on foot. Pharaoh’s army rode chariots and horses. 
 
In the distance, behind the pillar that guarded us, I heard the whinnies and neighs of the horses, and the sounds of battle. I whirled around now in dread, and blinked at what I saw. The wheels of Pharaoh’s chariots had popped off! The army was in pandemonium. Many of the chariots were overturned, or piled up upon one another. Aaron let out a short laugh of glee. 
 
“Come on!” I shouted, picking up my pace to the shore. I suddenly knew what I had to do. 
 
For some time, I outstripped the people by a considerable margin. Aaron and Miriam hurried to catch up, along with Aaron’s family, who tried to bridge the gap and urge the rest of the Israelites to make haste. 
 
These people are insufferable, I thought in amazement, but did not say. 
 
The thought was not meant to be directed to the Lord, but the Lord answered me anyway. Oh. You don’t know the half of it yet. 
 
When I’d reached the shore and the last of the straggling Israelites climbed up beside me, I looked back over the Red Sea, waters still parted from shore to shore, with a pillar of fire standing between  us and the Egyptian army. The army had made no progress from the time the Lord began to trouble the wheels of their chariots. It looked like they were trying to flee back in the opposite direction, but they couldn’t seem to do that either. The first glimmer of dawn appeared on the horizon.
 
Stretch out your hand over the sea, the Lord said to me, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen. 
 
Staff in hand, I did so. With a mighty thunderous crash, the walls of water collapsed, as if the invisible hands holding them in place had been removed. We heard not so much as a cry from our pursuers. They simply vanished before our eyes in the sea. 
 
For a long moment, I could hear nothing but the thunder of the waters. When the waves calmed, I heard the shouts of the people behind me. I closed my eyes, stinging with tears, a lump in my throat.
 
You did it, Lord, I told Him. You are… incredible! 
 
Tell the people, He replied. Lead them in a song of praise. Memorialize this moment, and mark every detail. For they will soon forget. 
 
How can any of us ever forget what wonders you have done for us this night? I thought. You are so good, so powerful, so righteous!
 
Tell the people, He said again. They will follow your lead. 
 
So I did. I was not much of a speaker, and even less a singer, but my skill did not matter. I turned around, let the people see my tear-streaked face, and raised my hands. Then I opened my mouth in song. It came to me fully formed, in perfect verse, and with a melody simple and catchy enough that the children picked it up at once. Miriam had brought her timbrel, so she danced among the people, encouraging all the young women to join her. The children did too, making up all their own steps as they went. Even the most stoic of the people clapped their hands and learned the words. We laughed, sang, danced, and rejoiced before the Lord with all our hearts. 
 
They will soon forget, the Lord had said. But for this moment—for this moment, they were thankful.   
 
Sep 18, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, Maintaining Your Peace

This is the handout on defeating anxiety and control. 

Sep 11, 2020

Today's retelling of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man from the Gadarenes comes from Matt 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, and Luke 8:26-39.

Introduction 

This story happens immediately after Jesus calms the storm at sea. Everywhere Jesus goes, he’s mobbed by people who want to hear him teach and to be healed. He could theoretically have stayed where he was, and ministered to thousands of people. Instead, he crosses the stormy see from Galilee to the wilderness of the Gadara—interesting for several reasons. First, it’s not part of the Jewish nation; this is one of the ten cities of the Decapolis, east of the Jordan river, and according to Josephus, it was inhabited mostly by Greeks. Jews would not have kept a herd of pigs, as they considered them to be unclean, so these were definitely Gentiles.


Second, the only thing Jesus does when he gets there is to heal this one demonized man. Immediately afterwards, the people are so terrified that they beg him to leave. It appears Jesus traveled all this way, through the storm, just for this one guy. To me, this seems like an illustration of Jesus’ three parables: of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost (or prodigal) son. One man is worth all of this time and effort on Jesus’ part!


We see a bit of the reason for this as soon as Jesus arrives. Despite the fact that he played host to a “legion” of demons (at least two thousand apparently!), the real man is still down there, wanting to be free. We know this because when he sees Jesus from afar, he runs toward him, falls at his feet, and worships him (Mark 5:6). All the dialogue listed appears to be between Jesus and the demons, so the man may not at that point have had use of his vocal cords. But he had enough control over his body that he could run toward the Messiah, which no doubt was exactly the opposite of what the demons wanted him to do. When he got there, the demons begged Jesus not to torment them. They knew they’d had it now.


How did the man know who Jesus was, anyway? He lived naked and alone among the tombs, and the other Gadarene people obviously kept far away from him. He wouldn’t have heard any rumors about Jesus from them. So presumably he knew who Jesus was because the demons knew. They recognized him in the spirit, and called him “Jesus, son of the Most High God”. No humans had even received this revelation yet! So perhaps the man “overheard” the demons discussing who Jesus was in his mind.
How would this produce faith in him to run to Jesus, though? Satan’s very name means "false accuser”; surely the demons would have told the man all the ways in which he was not worthy. They might have lied about Jesus’ character, and told the man that he would be tormented if he approached the Son of God. The only thing that makes sense to me is that the Father must have broken through the influence of that legion of demons, and given this man a revelation of who Jesus was (his character and his love, not just his title). Nothing else would have induced him run to Jesus and fall at his feet. That was the man’s act of faith. It was all he could do, but it was enough. Praise God that no matter how bad off we are, we are never outside the Father’s reach!


The subsequent interaction between Jesus and the demons peels back the veil between worlds, and gives a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of the spirit realm. Jesus commands the demons to leave, and instead of just doing it, they argue with him: “I adjure you by God that you torment me not.” The Greek word adjure (horkizo) means “to command under oath with a threat of penalty.” They think Jesus is breaking the rules, that God gave the demons authority until a set time which had not yet arrived (Matthew 8:29). When Adam obeyed Satan in the Garden, he made Satan the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4). From that point on, outside of God’s later covenant of protection which covered the Jewish people only, the fate of individuals legally was in Satan’s hands (Job 1:12). This man is not a Jew; he had no covenant to protect him. So the demons think that even if Jesus has the power to cast them out, as God, he should not have the authority to do so: the earth isn’t His anymore.


What they don’t understand is that the earth and everything in it was given to mankind to subdue in the Garden (Gen 1:28). It’s as though God owned the property, earth, but leased it to mankind. Men then “sub-let” the property to Satan, yes—but the official authority to act upon the earth still belonged to mankind. Jesus was now a man. He had not yet died and risen again to become the “last Adam,” redeeming us from the curse we brought upon ourselves (1 Cor 15:45), but as God wrapped in a human body, he did have legal authority on earth, in a way that God the Father did not. He was basically a Trojan horse. The demons didn’t get this: they thought God the Father was intervening before the “earth lease” had run out, and they cried foul.


But whether the demons understood the source of Jesus’ authority or not, they still had to obey his power. They didn’t want to go back to the abyss, or Sheol, and asked Jesus’ permission to go into the herd of pigs instead. Presumably they needed to inhabit physical bodies in order to remain on earth. Jesus granted this. But the demons’ new home didn’t last long, of course: once the pigs lost their minds, ran off a cliff and killed themselves, the demons presumably had to go back into the abyss anyway!
Whoever owned those two thousand pigs was no doubt very unhappy, as the herd would have represented a substantial investment. The scripture says the people were afraid because of the miracle Jesus had performed, though, so this was the primary reason that the Gadarenes begged him to leave their region, rather than because of the loss of the pigs. (Interesting that they weren’t afraid of the naked guy roaming around the tombs, cutting himself and wailing and unable to be bound by any chains. But once he’s clothed and in his right mind, now they’re terrified.)
The man begged to follow Jesus after he had been set free, but Jesus did not allow him to do so. Instead, he gave the man an assignment: to go back and tell his friends and family what God had done for him. Perhaps this was the reason Jesus did not allow the man to come with him—or perhaps it was because his primary ministry was still to the lost sheep of Israel. Bringing a Gentile with him might have been an impediment to this. Regardless, the man’s testimony was evidently effective, because the next time Jesus went to the Decapolis, crowds turned out to hear him and be healed (Mark 7:31-37, Matthew 15:30).

 

Fictionalized Retelling 
 
I watched longingly as Jesus climbed into one of the boats, and as the whole small company of his disciples set out across the lake, fading into the distance. I longed to be with them… but Jesus had given me an assignment.

I turned around to face the crowd of my townspeople that watched the boats sailing away at a distance, making sure that Jesus left. Then, deliberately, I thrust both fists in the air.
 
“I’m free!” I shouted. “That man called Jesus set me free!”
 
I climbed the hill where they stood watching warily. As soon as I reached them, I told them this story.

***

How to explain what it was like?

I can only find words in retrospect. At the time, there were none.
Imagine that there is a parasite living under your skin. You can see it slithering around, eating you alive from the inside. That is why I cut myself with stones: I was trying to expel the creatures who had taken over my body. Yet the action was worse than useless. I never got anywhere near the source of the problem. It was not even on the plane of the physical world. Some part of me knew this, yet I couldn’t stop. It was compulsive, as if the next slice might make the difference. In the same way, anything that bound or shackled me had to come off, because to me, it was a symbol of the creatures that had bound my soul. That was also why I ripped my clothes, and why I snapped any chains that bound me.

I lived among the tombs because, where else could I go? Living humans shunned me. I cried out in torment: I had no other power over my vocal cords. I could not speak. Crying out in anguish was my only relief, and poor relief it was.

Did I sleep? I don’t know. There were large gaps in my memory, but I did not know if this was when the beings inside me took over, or when I lost consciousness.

I ate living creatures, raw and wriggling. (I’m sorry if that offends you.)

If I could have killed myself, I would have. That is the other reason I slashed at my skin with stones. But had I succeeded, my death would have banished the creatures from my body—and of course, they could not permit that. They did not mind if I mutilated myself, so long as I continued to exist.

Then one day, when dawn came, instead of roaming about among the tombs and wailing as I had done for countless years, I instead got to my feet and made my way down to the Sea of Galilee. This was not a conscious choice, either of mine or of the creatures inhabiting my body. It was as if I were compelled by something stronger than any of us.

A long way off, I saw boats docking. Suddenly the creatures exploded in my mind.

That is Him! That is the Most High God! shrieked one. Flee! Flee! Do not let Him sense us!

It cannot be, God does not walk the earth! protested another.
Do you not sense the power radiating from Him, even from here? the first one demanded. Do you not recognize Him? Look!

I turned to look with the creatures, and gasped aloud. Suddenly the world appeared in gray instead of color, mere moving shapes and shadows—except for one point of bright, radiant light, like the sun. It stepped off the boat, pulsing and radiating with palpable glory, almost painful in its beauty.

“Jesus!” the demons formed the name on my tongue. I knew then that the name belonged to the man, and that the man was God Himself. In exactly that same moment, hope bloomed in my chest.

My feet began to move. If ever I had power over my own body, I exerted every last shred of it then, though I felt the demons inside of me seizing up my limbs to try to make me stop. I tripped and fell on my face. I tasted blood, but got back to my feet and kept running. The demons in my head screamed at me to stop, to turn around and go back to the tombs.

He will despise you! they cried, you are an abomination! He will destroy you, you filthy, unclean wretch!

Good, I thought back. Better to be destroyed by Him than to live a thousand years as I am. It was not just the relief of death that I sought. If the brightness of this man’s radiance incinerated me like a ball of flame, it would be all worth it, just for that split second beforehand when I would coexist in the sphere of His glory.

My vision returned to normal. I saw color again, and the glorious radiance that had surrounded Jesus faded until he looked like just an ordinary man. He moved deliberately in my direction, apart from the others who docked several of their little boats behind him. When I reached him, I threw myself at his feet.

Jesus opened his mouth and commanded, “Come out of the man, unclean spirit!”

The demons took over my tongue to reply. The voice that rasped from my throat was not my own.

“What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure You by God that You do not torment me before the time!”

I looked up into the face of this man. He was surprisingly young, with a stern expression in his hard eyes. At the same moment, my memory overlaid the cloud of glory around him that I had seen in the spirit moments before. I raised my hands in worship; it was all I could do.

“What is your name?” Jesus demanded.

My own tongue rasped back, “My name is Legion; for we are many. Do not send us out of the country and back into the abyss!” I felt my head swivel to one side, and saw a herd of swine feeding near the cliffs overlooking the sea not far off. “Send us into the swine, that we may enter them.”

“Go!” Jesus commanded.

The sensation within me was like a rushing wind, as if I were caught up in a hurricane—and then, silence.

I collapsed, clutching the sand on the shore, gasping. I looked at my fingers in front of me in wonder. They were caked with dirt, the fingernails long and curled and filthy—but they were mine. I wiggled them in front of my face, marveling that I had no resistance.

“I can… speak,” I croaked in wonder, looking up at the face of my rescuer. Jesus smiled down at me.

“Yes, my son,” he said, his tone gentle now.

All the others who had arrived with Jesus began to gather around me, tending to my needs. Several brought basins of fresh water, sponging away the dried blood and dirt from my various swollen cuts. One trimmed my nails from my hands and feet. One draped a cloak over my shoulders. One tilted a mug of water to my parched lips. It all overwhelmed me.  I was used to people running from me and shunning me. I did not know how to respond to kindness. 

“Jesus, look!” one of them said, in the midst of these ministrations. The speaker pointed at the cliff where the pigs were. They scampered this way and that, squeaking and squawking in an utter chaos that seemed to me a perfect representation of the way my mind had felt for ever so long. The men who must have been tending the pigs were running the other way, down the mountain. Then, a few of the pigs ran off the cliff and into the sea. More of them seemed to notice this as a means of escape, and within moments, every single one of them flung themselves into the water. I knew exactly how they felt; anything was better than playing host to those demons.

Abruptly, the unearthly squeals of the pigs ceased.

“We do not have long now,” Jesus observed. “The people will hear the story from the swine herds shortly and will make their way here.”

“The owner won’t be happy,” muttered one of Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus shook his head in agreement.

“No, indeed,” he agreed.

The other disciples continued their ministrations to me, trimming my beard and combing my matted hair. One shared food with me: bread and cooked fish. It was the first normal food I had tasted in years.

As grateful as I was, though, I was significantly less concerned with my physical needs at the moment. All I wanted was to hear what Jesus was saying to the disciples nearest him. The man who trimmed my beard noticed that I was staring after Jesus longingly, straining to hear his words. He approached him for me, pointing in my direction, and Jesus walked over to me again. As much as I had wanted Jesus’ attention again, now that I had it, I trembled with shame. He looked ordinary now, but the sharp memory of his glory made me shrink back and drop my gaze.

Jesus must have understood. He placed a hand on my shoulder, and said gently, “Son, take heart. Your sins are forgiven.”

I dared to look up at him again, hopeful now, and whispered, “Do they all know who you are?” I pointed at all the other disciples around.

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Sometimes they know, but they forget easily. Not all have seen what you have seen.”

I was about to reply, but Jesus looked beyond me to the crowds from the town. Evidently the swine herds’ story had already reached their ears, and they came to see who had caused such a commotion. I turned, and saw all of the townspeople glancing at Jesus, then fixating upon me. I knew by their expressions and whispers that they recognized me. I stood up, pulling the cloak around me, and tried to reassure them.

“It’s okay!” I called, and attempted a smile. It was probably more like a grimace, though, given how out of practice my facial muscles were. “I’m… me again! See?” I wiggled my fingers in the air, as if to demonstrate that they were under my control. “I won’t terrorize you anymore. You don’t have to be afraid!”

Unfortunately my words seemed to have the opposite effect. They all drew back, their whispers coming fast and furious now. Some of the other disciples with Jesus stepped forward to try to explain, too.

“Jesus cast an entire legion of demons from this man,” one said, and another added, “the demons asked to be sent into the pigs. Jesus just gave them permission.” Another added, “We’re… sorry about your herds…”

The expressions in the crowd all looked terrified. One man, whom I vaguely recognized as a magistrate or someone important, cleared his throat and stepped forward.

“Please, leave us now.” His voice was low and even. He looked mostly at Jesus, but at the other disciples as well. “We do not know what manner of power can do such a thing, but we do not want it here. Please go.”

I looked back at Jesus to see how he would take this. He met the man’s gaze squarely, and did not apologize, but he did incline his head in understanding.

“As you wish,” he said, and gestured to his disciples to get back into their boats.

I leapt to my feet at once.

“Wait!” I pleaded, running after them. “Take me with you! I—I want to be one of your disciples too!”

Jesus turned back to me, his expression full of compassion. I deflated as soon as I saw it, knowing what it meant.

“No, son,” he said, and gestured behind me to the townspeople with his eyes. “You go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you.”

I absorbed this disappointment, but then stood up straighter.

“I will, Lord,” I promised. “I will tell them all every day, every chance I get, whether they want to hear it or not!”

Jesus grinned in spite of himself. “I believe you will,” he said. “We’ll be seeing you again, I’m sure.”

***

“And now you know all that I know,” I finished, speaking to the small crowd still gathered on the hill top. I beamed, and declared again, “I’m free! The Lord has set me free!”

They all marveled at my story. The town magistrate shook his head at me in wonder, looking off into the distance where the boats had long since disappeared.

“Well,” he murmured at last. “Now I rather regret running him off like that.”

“My sister is crippled,” said another woman. “I wonder if he could have healed her?”

“And I’ve had this pain in my back for ever so long…” murmured another.

“I haven’t slept properly in thirteen years!” cried a third.

“He’ll be back,” I said to them all with confidence. “He promised! And if he can set me free from two thousand demons, all of that stuff will be nothing for him!”

“Maybe he can,” muttered the magistrate. “But will he? After we asked him to leave?”

I shook my head. “You don’t understand, he’s not like you and me! He doesn’t hold grudges.” How I knew this when I’d barely spoken to him, I couldn’t have said. But I did know it, from that glory cloud alone. Tears pricked my eyes, and I added in a whisper, “He’s absolute perfection.”

 
Sep 4, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, Get the Most Out of Your EFAs

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Aug 28, 2020

Today's meditation is on Jesus calming the windstorm in MT 8:18-27, MK 4:35-41, and LK 8:22-25.

Introduction
 
Jesus had been teaching the crowds, as well as the disciples, about the power of seeds to bear fruit all that day (Mark 4:35). He explicitly told the disciples that the seeds are His word (Mark 4:14), and then he urged them to take heed of what they heard and to value it (Mark 4:24-25), because those seeds that land on “good ground” would produce thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold. But those that land on the path, among stones, or among thorns will be stolen or choked: “even what he has will be taken away from him” (Mark 4:25).

Remember, Jesus’ word is the seed, containing the power in itself to bring the word to pass, just as the seed contains power within itself to germinate into life when placed in the right soil. His word concerning the lake was, “Let us cross over to the other side” (Mark 4:35). Not let’s go halfway and drown!

Because Jesus is confident that his word will come to pass, he goes to sleep—which itself is quite a feat. Have you ever been on a boat during a windstorm? Even without the sea spray, which may or may not have splashed Jesus as he slept (he was in the stern, but we don’t know if there was any sort of structure over him as he slept), I can’t imagine sleeping through that. Even if he wasn’t getting splashed by each wave, the boat was filling up, so it’s unlikely Jesus was totally dry. But he’d been teaching all day and presumably was exhausted—or, maybe he knew the windstorm was coming, and wanted to test the disciples to see if they had grasped what he’d been teaching all day. He knew his calling as Messiah was to die for our sins on a cross, not to drown in a boat. He knew they would be fine, whether there was a storm or not, and whether he rebuked that storm or not.

But the disciples were fishermen by trade. They would have had a lot of experience with storms, and this may have added to their unbelief. Presumably they knew the difference between a no-big-deal windstorm, and the kind that sinks boats like theirs. Jesus’ word may have, in their minds, paled in comparison to what they knew in their natural minds and from their past experiences. They were doing everything they knew to do to weather the storm, and they were still losing.

At last they woke up Jesus with the accusation, “Don’t you care that we perish?” The implication here seems to be, “You should be helping! You’re not pulling your weight!” Presumably they wanted him to help bail water, though, not to calm the storm with a word! If they had expected the latter, they would not have been so terrified when the wind and the waves do obey him (Mark 4:41).
I think the disciples were only thinking of the immediate danger when they asked this question. They probably were not thinking that Jesus would survive to carry on his mission, but they would die. I suspect in the throes of the storm, when they said “don’t you care that we perish,” they included Jesus in that “we.” Had they taken him at his word of “let us go to the other side,” and considered it as a statement of fact, perhaps they might have considered more possible nuances of the statement: “us” might mean all the boats crossing with theirs (as there were multiple: Mark 4:36), or it might mean just the boat Jesus was on, though the others might be lost… or it might mean Jesus plus a select few survivors who floated to shore on flotsam beside him. I’ve heard all of these as possible interpretations of the disciples’ question: sure, Jesus, maybe you’ll be fine, but what about the rest of us? Do we have any guarantees?!

I doubt the disciples meant any of this, though. In the adrenaline of the moment, I suspect they had forgotten Jesus said anything about their survival at all. Their natural unbelief had completely taken over, they were overwhelmed with trying to keep from sinking or capsizing, and they were furious that they had another crew member who wasn’t helping—who was sleeping, of all things! In a way, their indignation reminds me of Martha’s frustration with Mary when she sat at Jesus’ feet, rather than helping with the cooking. Not life-and-death, obviously, but it’s still the implication of, “I’m overwhelmed with work, and you’re just sitting there being lazy! How dare you!” In reality, of course, Mary’s choice placed higher value on what really mattered. Jesus’ peace even unto sleep was a physical manifestation of his faith. (He’d also been ministering all day, and would be again the next day, and he probably needed his rest—storm or no!)

When the disciples do finally rouse Jesus, he commands the sea in Greek to siopao and phimoo: to hush or be silent, and to muzzle or make speechless. From a poetical standpoint, it’s interesting to consider that the sea and the waves were speaking until this point. What were they saying? “You are perishing!” was their message to the disciples. They were flatly contradicting the earlier words of Jesus: “Let us cross over to the other side.” The disciples believed the words of the waves—the words of their natural circumstances—rather than the words of Jesus. That is the definition of unbelief.
It also appears that until the disciples woke him, Jesus had no intention of calming the storm. He was going to just sleep through it! Presumably he calms it for the sake of the disciples—and then he rebukes them. “Why are you so fearful?” he demands. “How is it that you have no faith?” Fear is the opposite of faith: in this case, it’s putting “faith” in the words of the circumstances, rather than in the words of Jesus. He was probably extra frustrated because he’d just spent all day talking about how words are seeds, and they contain in them the power of the kingdom of God to bring themselves to pass—if mixed with faith. Then he gave them a word that should have been all they needed to get through this storm. He expected them to weather the storm in faith, as he himself was doing.

He probably did not yet expect them to speak to the wind and the waves themselves, though, because even though they had already seen Jesus command nature a few times (when he turned water into wine, and when Peter caught massive amounts of fish the first time they met), he had not yet fed the 5000 or the 4000, placed the coin in the fish’s mouth, cursed the fig tree, or walked on water. He also had not yet given power to the disciples to heal sickness or cast out evil spirits (that was in Matthew 10:1). So even though Jesus later says that his followers will do greater things than he had done (John 14:12), he says this only just before he goes to the cross, and then he tells the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they receive the power of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want them to go out and try to do all these great works in their own strength.

All this suggests to me that Jesus is not frustrated with the disciples that they did not command the winds and the waves themselves. He’s frustrated that they did not rest in confidence that they would survive the storm, however tumultuous things looked in the moment—simply based on the power of his word.
Today, we as believers have the power to do both: to speak to any mountain that stands in the way of what God has promised or called us to do (Mark 11:23), but also to rest in the middle of the storm, knowing that “in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Once the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they had to fight the giants, but ultimately God’s intention was for them to enter His rest. He still has that rest for us today (Hebrews 4:9-10), for all who mix God’s words with faith. 
 
Fictionalized Retelling (from Peter’s POV)

It was dusk. The crowds, who had hung on Jesus’ every word that day, reluctantly dispersed after he dismissed them. Then he turned to us, and indicated the sea at our backs.

“Let us cross over to the other side,” he said, with a heavy sigh. He looked exhausted, and it was no wonder: he’d been teaching for about twelve hours in the hot sun, and hardly pausing to eat or drink. I was exhausted, and I hadn’t done half of what he had done. I might have suggested we sleep in our boats on shore, except that I suspected the only reason the crowds had dispersed at all was because they thought Jesus was leaving. If we stayed where we were, I wouldn’t put it past them to mob us even in the night. We had no choice: we had to set sail.

The thirteen of us had come in four small vessels. Jesus climbed aboard mine, along with James and John, and we pushed off first. I tried not to notice the ominous stillness of the water as the other disciples set out from shore in our wake. I told myself I was being silly, until John joined me at the helm.

“It doesn’t look good, does it?” he murmured. I looked up sharply.
“I hoped it was just me!”

But John shook his head. “I’ve seen this enough times. So have you. I just hope it holds off long enough for us to get to shore.”

“Hey!” James called to us, as he put up the sails. “Little help here?”

John and I went to do as we were bid, but I looked around for Jesus. He had disappeared. I frowned, pointing at the stern, which was the only structure on board.

“Is he in there?”

James nodded. “He said he’s going to catch some shut-eye, as much as he can. No doubt he’ll be mobbed on the other shore in the morning too.”

“Assuming we get there,” I muttered under my breath, looking around with apprehension. Sure enough, the wind had started to pick up. I heard the high-pitched howl I so disliked, and within minutes, the water went from glass to pitching from side to side.

“Doesn’t look good, fellas,” called James, “man your posts!”

We did, as the wind rose higher and louder, and the waves pitched the little boat like it was a toy. We weren’t making any forward progress, and within about twenty minutes, we were soaked to the bone. More than once I reflexively glanced back at the stern. The door was still shut, though surely the deck inside was just as wet as we were out here. 

“How can he sleep through this?” John shouted at me.

I shook my head, intending to reply but spluttering instead as I inhaled seawater.

Water splashed into the boat once, twice, three times—then we lost count. It rose on the deck until it was up to our ankles, and then halfway to our knees. We hung on to keep from sliding into the water ourselves, all three of us bailing water when we were upright as hard as we could.

It was obvious to all of us that it was an exercise in futility, though. For every bucket we bailed, the sea returned ten more to us.

“We’re going to drown!” James shouted. “Where is Jesus? Why isn’t he helping?”

“Will it matter?” John cried.

“It might! Every extra pair of hands counts!” The wind cut off his next words, but I thought he said, “Peter, you’re closest, you go wake him up!”

I slipped on the deck as it pitched almost a full ninety degrees to one side—or at least that’s how it felt. The slap of the boat back down on the waves catapulted me forward so that I slammed into the structure in the stern. I managed to pry the door open, letting in a cascade of water with me. Then I couldn’t hold it, and slid all the way to the back of the stern, slamming my shins into the cot where Jesus slept.

He was still sleeping. Somehow his head had not even left his pillow, though the pillow was sopping wet. He looked completely at peace, like a child.

For a moment, indignation overwhelmed my fear. I reached out and shook him by the shoulders.

“Teacher!” I shouted, “do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus sucked in a breath, a sign that he had regained consciousness. He blinked at me blearily, and then took in our surroundings. What was the expression on his face? Was that… irritation?

Without responding to me directly, Jesus sloshed through the water to the door of the stern and threw it open, somehow keeping his balance perfectly. Then he bellowed, “Peace, be still!”

The howling ceased at once. The waves began to settle down too, expending the last of their momentum until they smoothed out into the same almost eerie stillness they had been when we set out. I followed him outside, to see with my eyes what I felt and heard. Sure enough, the water was now smooth as glass.

Then he turned to me, a stern look on his face.

“Why are you so fearful?” he demanded. He directed his next question at James and John, who stood stupefied on the still waterlogged deck. “How is it that you have no faith?”

Without waiting for a response, he turned and went back into the stern, shutting the door behind him—presumably to go back to sleep.

None of the three of us moved for what felt like a long time. At last, John whispered, his full voice suddenly sounding too loud in the great calm, “Who is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?”

We all exchanged a terrified look, far more afraid now of the man in the stern than we had been of the storm a few moments before.
There could be only one answer.
Aug 21, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post: Detoxing: Glucuronidation.

Aug 14, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation on and retelling of the Woman with the Issue of Blood, from Luke 8:43-48, Mark 5:24-34, and Matt 9:20-22

It’s interesting that this woman is not named, even though three different gospel writers tell her story. This could have been for her protection: at the time that Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote their gospels, the woman was likely still alive, and she had clearly violated the Jewish law. A woman with an issue of blood was considered ceremonially unclean, and thus should not have been in public. Anyone she touched would likewise have become unclean.

Think about what this meant for this poor woman. If she was married, she could not have sex with her husband (Leviticus 15:19-30, Ezekiel 18:6). The extrabiblical Talmud laws are far more stringent: if she did have sex with her husband deliberately, her husband could be arrested and potentially killed. If it was accidental (perhaps if a woman did not realize she was starting her period), they would need to offer a sacrifice to atone for their sin. Chances were, therefore, that this woman was unmarried—either she had never married because of her condition, or her husband had left her. This would not have been difficult, as divorce could be had for the asking, regardless of the cause (Deut 24:1).

Even if she had a husband who stuck by her, she still would have been terribly lonely. She could not touch anyone or anything without consequence. She would have been barren at least for those twelve years, as well, which was especially hard for a woman in those days. We don’t know her age, but she was young enough to still have a period, yet old enough to have had it for at least twelve years. This puts her in her early 20s at the youngest. For the purposes of my story, I assumed she was unmarried and in her late 20s.

Throughout those twelve years, she had done all she knew to do. She had seen many doctors, which had cost her all she had—yet still she grew worse. No doubt she was heartsick (Proverbs 13:12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life”) as well as physically exhausted from severe iron deficiency. It’s a wonder she could even crawl through that crowd!
Despite all this, the woman had incredible faith. We can see this by what she says to herself about Jesus: “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” Not might be;
shall be. That is incredible for someone who had suffered for so long! How did she find such confidence?

The woman must have known that Jesus was the Messiah. She had likely heard the stories of his miraculous healing power, since she lived in Capernaum (Matthew 9:1, Mark 2:1) which was Jesus’ home base. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17)—so as she heard that Jesus had healed others, faith must have been born in her heart. Maybe she also knew what was written in Malachi 4:2: “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.” The word wings here in Hebrew is the word
kanaph, which means wing, skirt, or corner of a garment. Another use of the same word appears in Numbers 15:38: “Speak unto the children of Israel and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders (kanaph) of their garments throughout their generations and that they put upon the fringe of the borders (kanaph) a ribband of blue.” So when Malachi uses the same word, speaking of the Messiah, he was prophesying that healing would be in the fringes of his prayer shawl.

Even so, especially in Capernaum, Jesus was always surrounded by a crowd. About 1500 people lived in Capernaum in Jesus’ day, and he usually drew crowds from the surrounding areas as well. This meant she, a ceremonially unclean woman, could not help but defile large numbers of people on her way to the Messiah, and potentially Jesus himself! Not only that, but if she lived in Capernaum, many of those people would likely recognize her. So she must have planned this in advance. She had been meditating beforehand on how she might touch Jesus’ garment without being seen—we know this by what she says to herself in her heart. Perhaps she heard when Jesus would next be in town. Perhaps she disguised herself so she would not be recognized. She had to really want her healing, and go to great trouble and risk to get it. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” She gets exactly what she believes for! This is the only example in scripture of someone who receives their healing from Jesus without his awareness or involvement.

Jesus knows what happened, though—he can somehow feel the difference between a mere press of the crowd, and an intentional supernatural healing. Probably he’s impressed, and wants to see and commend the one who had such faith as to take their healing by force (Matthew 11:12).

But the woman is afraid to admit it was her. Is she afraid of the punishment of the Jewish law, or is she afraid of Jesus himself? She obviously knew that healing flowed even from his garments, but she might not have understood his heart—just as the Israelites knew God’s acts, but not His ways (Psalm 103:7).

If she was afraid of Jesus, though, she isn’t anymore after he speaks to her. He calls her “daughter,” the only woman addressed this way in scripture. Then he tells her that her faith has made her whole: the word for whole in Greek in
sozo, which means not just healed physically, but safe and sound, rescued from danger, healed, restored, and saved in the spiritual sense. The word made in Greek is perfect tense (meaning an action in the past that affects the future), active voice (her faith made it happen), and indicative mood (it’s progressive: she may not have 100% sozo right that second in her body and her life, but it’s promised, and it’s therefore as good as done). Then he tells her to go in peace. The verb go is in imperative mood, indicating a command—it is up to her to continue in peace. The word for peace here is eirene, which means prosperity, harmony, joy, and peace. She was potentially in danger for violation of laws, and yet Jesus is declaring her safety.

After twelve years of being an unclean, lonely outcast, Jesus says that she is a daughter who walks in peace and wholeness! But it’s up to her to walk in that knowledge, to maintain that new identity. It’s up to us to remember and walk in the knowledge of who we are in Christ, too.

The Retelling

How did I get here? I wondered despairingly as I lay in my bed, day after day, year after year.
My life had become a living nightmare. All my girlhood dreams of marriage and motherhood and laughter and purpose and come to this: at twenty-eight, I was already considered an old maid. No man would ever touch me; indeed, none could without risking severe punishment. I was unclean, and had been for the last twelve years, since I was sixteen years old.
I should have been married that year. I should have made a happy bride. I should have a brood of children by now.
Instead, I was a severe burden to my aging parents. My father had constructed a separate dwelling for me so that my uncleanness would not contaminate the rest of the household, and my mother brought me my meals, careful never to touch me nor to sit down on or handle anything I might have touched. They spent all they had to send me to the best doctors, some of whom I had to travel far to see. The worst of their useless treatments involved blood letting. I was already bleeding continuously, but these doctors thought that opening my veins and letting out yet more of my blood might cure me.
I was so weak by this point, I could hardly bathe or to feed myself. The majority of my energy was wasted upon my tears. Often I longed for death. I had no hope of anything in this life anymore.
But one day, when my mother brought me my tray for the midday meal and I looked up at her wearily, I saw a new sparkle in her eye. I could muster no curiosity about its cause, but she was determined to tell me anyway.
“Aila,” she said to me, breathless. “There is a prophet in Capernaum, a prophet who is said to possess the power to heal! There are those who say he must be the Messiah!” And she began to tell me about this man named Jesus. I wondered at all she told me: she had never mentioned him before, so I had the impression she had just heard the stories of his miracles that day, and had spent the morning gossiping to learn as much about the man as she could. She told me rumors of a wedding in Cana, in which the host ran out of wine and Jesus provided it by telling the servants to fill vessels with water, which became the finest wine when brought to the host to taste. She told of how he had all but announced himself as the Messiah in the Temple when he read from the scroll of Isaiah 61, and then declared to all those listening that “today this is fulfilled in your hearing.” She told me a story of a paralytic so eager to meet Jesus that his friends took the tiles off of a roof where Jesus was preaching to a great multitude, and lowered him down before Jesus’ feet. Jesus healed him, and the man took up his mat and walked out, to the amazement of all.
As my mother spoke, I saw the tears sparkling in her eyes. Answering tears stung my own, always so near the surface. I swallowed down the lump in my throat. Something intangible began to bubble and swell in my chest, something that I had not felt in many a year: hope.
“He lives in Capernaum? This man Jesus?” I pressed, and my mother nodded.
“He does, but he travels to all the surrounding regions of Israel, apparently drawing crowds everywhere he goes.” Her expression faltered. “That… is the problem. The crowds.”
My face fell too, and the bubble in my chest nearly burst. But before it could extinguish altogether, a scripture came to mind out of nowhere, one I had not even known I knew.
“But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings…” I whispered, and my eyes met my mother’s. Understanding spread across her face too, mingled with doubt. “If he is who you say he is,” I told her, “I do not need his attention. I just need to get close enough to touch the hem of his garment.”
My mother let out a puff of breath, looking troubled as she shook her head. “Aila, you can barely stand, let alone walk. And there will be a crowd pressing all around! Will you make all of them unclean? Do you know what they will do to you if you are discovered? They could stone you!”
Suddenly my eyes flashed. “I don’t care!” I cried. “Death is better than the life I live now! If this man Jesus is my only hope, there is nothing I will not risk to get to him, nothing!” I looked away so I could not see my mother’s horrified expression, and set my jaw. Then I mused aloud, “I just need to know when he is expected back in Capernaum.”
She said in almost a whisper, “I already asked. The rumors are that he is on his way back today, and is expected by this time tomorrow.”
“Good,” I said, “less time to wait. I also need a disguise.” I had not been out in the city for quite some time, but surely there would still be those who remembered me and might recognize me. My mother was a talker; they would all know of my uncleanness if they knew who I was.
My mother hesitated, but said, “You may borrow my gray cloak. It will cover your face.”
I nodded, and gave her a glance of gratitude, knowing this was a gift and not a loan. Once I had touched it, and possibly bled on it, she could not take it back. It also occurred to me that I might not need to cover my face—if I managed to stand and walk, it would not be for long. When I envisioned the scene, I saw myself crawling on all fours toward Jesus, stretching all the time for the tassels of his prayer shawl. That was all I needed. I pictured my hand clasping the tassels, stealing my healing, and then standing up and quietly slipping away with no one the wiser. My heart, always a weak and pitiful flutter in my chest, beat faster for the first time in ages as I thought of it.
By this time tomorrow, I would be healed, or I would die trying. Either way, it would be better than this.
Normally I spent most of the day drowsing, but never truly sleeping deeply. I picked at my food all day long, and never ate a full meal. But for the rest of that day and into the next morning when my mother brought my breakfast, I felt a surge of strength born of my hope, even though I still trembled from weakness. With my breakfast, my mother brought me her promised gray cloak.
“He is here,” she whispered. “A great multitude has already abandoned their work for the day and has flocked to him. He is by the docks!”
“The docks!” I breathed with momentary despair.
“It is not far,” my mother murmured, correctly understanding my exclamation. “Perhaps a ten minute walk from here.”
“For you!” I shot back, but then got hold of myself, as resolve steeled my bones. “No. No. I can do this. I must do this.”
For the first time in years, I finished my entire breakfast, and donned my mother’s cloak. I gave her a brave smile, and she burst into tears, covering her face. I could not even touch her to comfort her. An ache bloomed in my chest at this thought. But then I said aloud, my words catching in my throat, “When I return, I will be clean! When I return, I can hug you again.”
This only made her cry harder. I left her standing in the middle of the room, opened the door, and made my way out into the streets—also for the first time in years. Today was a day of firsts.
I was surprised that my legs carried me at all, though I was winded within minutes. I had to slow down. I kept my head down so that the cloak covered my features, but could tell from my periphery that the crowds grew thicker and denser as I approached the docks. I managed to touch no one for most of the journey, but I could tell when I had arrived at my destination. The crowds were so densely oriented around one central figure that even though I could not see him, I knew Jesus must be at the center. I took a deep breath, and plunged into the crowd.
It went against every instinct I had to deliberately elbow my way through the men and women all eager to meet Jesus. I tried not to think about how many I contaminated along the way, or what they would do to me if they knew.
At last I saw the man dressed as a rabbi at the center. I did not get a good look at his face, but knew that he must be Jesus. I was almost there!
Suddenly a hush fell over the crowd, and one voice rose above the others.
“My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, that she may be healed, and she will live!”
The rabbi nodded. “Take me to her,” he said.
The first speaker leapt to his feet and began to lead the way, and the crowd surged forward, following Jesus. Despair threatened to crush me as the people jostled me this way and that, and I even lost sight of Jesus for a moment. As I was momentarily off balance, the crowd shoved me from behind, and I fell to my hands and knees, exactly as I had seen in my vision.
Somehow, oddly enough, it was this that galvanized me. This was what I had pictured. It was easier to make my way through the crowd on all fours than it was standing upright. I was entirely focused on one thing: the edge of that prayer shawl. I did not see it yet, but I scanned the clothing of the people around me as I crawled, ignoring all else. People stepped on my hands and made me cry out in pain. People kneed me and kicked me on accident. I did not care. I kept going, until at last I saw what I was looking for: the fringes of that shawl.
If only I may touch his clothes, I shall be made well, I repeated in my mind over and over, like a mantra. If only I may touch his clothes, I shall be made well. If only…
I reached out, just as he moved away. I crawled faster, kicked and jostled but determined. I reached out again, grabbed on to the tassels, and—
Power at once surged through my body, a sensation I had never felt before. The trembling weakness was instantly gone, and the constant feeling of the flow of blood between my legs suddenly dried up! I released Jesus’ garment and sat gasping, as the crowd began to push on past me. But Jesus stopped walking, and turned around.
“Who touched my clothes?” he demanded.
A new terror seized me. I did not know what to do. I shrank back, hoping that the rest of the crowd would shield me from him. What would he do? Would he command the crowd to stone me anyway, for breaking the law?
One of the men beside him said, “You see the multitude thronging you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
Jesus shook his head and insisted, “Somebody touched me. I felt power go out from me.”
It was clear he did not plan to move on until I revealed myself, and the people beside me looked around to find the culprit as well. Several noticed me at last, and one shouted, “Hey! I think I found her!”
Jesus now looked at me. He was surprisingly young, not much older than I was. I was trembling now not from weakness, but from fear, bowing lower still to his feet. What could I do but tell the whole truth?
“Lord,” I choked out, “I have suffered a continuous flow of blood these twelve years.” What a shameful thing to confess in a crowd of mixed company, a crowd whom I had contaminated! “I have spent all I had on physicians and have only grown worse. But I heard about you, and I thought, I need not trouble you! If I could only touch your clothes, I would be made well. So I did, and so I have: the fountain of my blood dried up and I was healed at once. I know I have broken the law and I have no excuse for myself except my very great desperation. I can do nothing but beg for your mercy!”
When Jesus did not immediately reply to this, at last my curiosity overcame my fear, and I looked up into his face. The look of compassion and tenderness in his wide brown eyes took my breath away. Despite the similarity in our ages, his expression reminded me of the way a father might gaze at his newborn child. His next words confirmed this.
“Daughter,” he said, in a voice so low it felt only meant for me, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”
As he was saying this, the man who had begged for his help at the beginning tore his attention away from me. I sat there dazed, as Jesus moved on, and the crowd surged after him, passing around me like water around a stone in a stream.
He called me daughter, I thought in amazement. He didn’t rebuke me. He didn’t condemn me!
He is the Messiah, I realized as I continued to sit there, long after the crowd had moved on. I had known this before, or I would never have done what I did. But if he was the Messiah, he was the Lord’s anointed, and he called me daughter… he had compassion on me… then who was this angry God the Pharisees preached?
I closed my eyes and remembered the tender expression in Jesus’ wide brown ones, treasuring the words he had said to me almost as much as my healing. Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.
And so I would. I stood up, brushed myself off, and walked home with my head held high. I did not care who saw me now.
I had my whole life ahead of me.

Aug 7, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post: EMF: How Do You Know If It's Too High?

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Jul 31, 2020

Today's meditation and retelling comes from Luke 5:4-10, John 21:3-8.

I guess I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Too much had happened—both the worst and the best. My Master’s horrific death, my own failure to stand by Him in His hour of need, and then—He rose again! He returned to us. He was the Messiah. We had been witness to the event that all of the Law and the Prophets, all of human history had been pointing to. 
 
Now what? 
 
The only clue Jesus gave to us of what to do next was to go into Galilee, and He would meet us there. He wasn’t with us all the time now, not since He rose again. Things were different, though He never told us what He was doing when He was not with us. 
 
I felt like my brain was always spinning since then, never arriving at its destination. I wanted something familiar, something I could do with my hands that would anchor me in the present. I was a fisherman by trade, though I hadn’t actually fished commercially in the last three and a half years since Jesus came into my life. We were here in Galilee now, but Jesus gave us no other specifics. We didn’t know when or where He would meet us, beyond somewhere in Galilee.  
 
“I’m going fishing,” I announced to James, John, Nathaniel, Thomas, Matthew, and Bartholomew who were with me. It was nighttime, but we always used to fish at night. That was when it was coolest. 
 
I was surprised at the suddenness of their reply: “We are going with you,” they all agreed. Evidently I wasn’t the only one who longed for some occupation to pass the time.  
 
As we prepared our nets and set out to the Sea of Galilee, I couldn’t help remembering the last time I had done this very thing. James and John were my partners then, and the three of us had fished all night in the Lake of Gennesaret, and caught nothing. We were exhausted, and washing our nets until the next time when a great multitude suddenly converged upon the shore. They all seemed to be centered upon one man, a young rabbi. I had never seen him before, but as soon as I saw him—his purposeful stride, the authority with which he carried himself—I couldn’t look away. I forgot all about my nets. I thought at the time that the crowds must all have seen what I saw, and that was why they followed him. 
 
But then I noticed that the man was looking at me, too. He strode right up to me, and gestured at one of our two boats on shore.
 
“Will you put out a bit from the land with me? You see how the crowd presses all around me.” 
 
“Yes!” I stammered, forgetting my fatigue. I rushed to obey, dragging my half-cleaned nets behind me and stuffing them into the boat. James and John remained on shore with the crowd, but did not leave. They too seemed to have forgotten their exhaustion in their eagerness to see whatever it was that the crowd expected to see. 
 
 It was just Jesus and me in the boat on the lake that day. He sat down and began to teach the crowds from the boat. I sat behind him, and with his every word, my soul burned within me. It was a sensation I had never experienced before, but I have many times since: that sense that I was hearing truth spoken in mysteries, falling from the lips of a man of exceeding greatness. I was a Jew, and I had always worshipped Jehovah in theory. But never before had I been stirred in such a way that worship was wrung from me as the only possible response, like water from a cloth. 
 
When the rabbi dismissed the crowds, and they reluctantly began to disperse, it was already in the heat of the day. He looked at me and said, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 
 
It was such an unexpected thing to say that I balked for a minute. Why? I wondered. What did that have to do with anything? 
 
“Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing,” I began, but then caught myself. I did not wish to argue with this man, of all people. If he wanted me to let down my net, I’d do it out of respect, even though it would mean extra work for me. “Nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the net,” I told him. I paddled a little way back out to the lake, though not to the deepest part. I had several nets, but I let down only the one—this was only a gesture, after all. I knew there were no fish to be had in the lake today—
 
“What is this?” I cried out in shock, as the net grew taut in my hands. I thought at first I had snagged it on something, but that could not be; the lake was much too deep. I managed to tug just enough for the shiny slippery silver bodies to break the surface of the water, wriggling and writhing all over each other. I gasped, and felt rather than heard the ripping of the rope down below the surface.
 
“James! John!” I shouted back to shore, and just glanced up to see that they were still there, awaiting my return. They had apparently seen enough of what was going on, and both of them jumped into the other boat and paddled out to where we were, along with two of our other partners. 
 
“Steady, steady!” called John, as he held the side of his boat against ours. He threw a rope across to climb into my boat, so that he could help me pull in the catch. It was all I could do to hold on to the edges of my net, but I certainly could not haul it onto the boat by myself. Finally I glanced at Jesus. He stood watching us, and I could swear he was silently laughing, his eyes crinkled with amusement. I glanced back down at the water. Before my very eyes, more fish jostled each other to swim into my net! I looked back at Jesus. Now he was laughing outright. 
 
“Ready, heave!” John cried to me, recalling my attention to the ever growing problem at hand. “The net is breaking!” 
 
“I know, that’s why I signaled you!” I returned. It was all we could do to lift the top of the catch out of the water and just let the fish spill onto the bottom of our boat in a great pile; I knew yet more had managed to escape underneath where the nets had ripped. Meanwhile, James and our other partners had taken the hint and let down their nets—plural this time—and were even now drawing their enormous catch on board.   
 
“We’re sinking!” John gasped to me as the fish continued to spill into the boat. 
 
“So are we!” James cried back from the other boat beside us. 
 
John and I watched as fish we hadn’t even caught in our nets jumped out of the water and into our boat. Our jaws dropped. I turned to Jesus, who had tears in his eyes now, he was laughing so hard. 
 
I released my end of the net entirely, and sank to my knees before Jesus’ feet as best I could, amid all the fish. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” I gasped. 
 
Jesus still grinned, but his expression softened as he looked down at me. I had the impression that he was pleased I had understood that this was his doing, even though it could not have been more obvious. “
 
“Do not be afraid,” he said to me. “From now on you will catch men.” 
 
When we got back to shore that day, salvaging our boats and some of our nets with the most enormous catch of fish we’d ever had before or since, James, John and I left everything and followed Jesus. We’d never looked back.
 
Three and a half years later, so much had changed that I scarcely remembered the man I was then. Tonight, as that first night before Jesus showed up, we had caught not a single fish. I watched as the sunrise streaked pink and red across the sky, and gritted my teeth against the ache in my chest. 
 
I missed him. 
 
He had risen, but He wasn’t here with us now. Everything had changed. He had risen, but now what? Where did we go from here? What did the rest of our lives look like? He had risen, but I had still denied Him when He needed me most. 
 
“Children!” called a voice from the shore. We all turned to see a stranger, hands cupped around his mouth to amplify the sound. “Have you any food?” 
 
“Children?” Bartholomew muttered. “That fellow can’t be any older than we are.” 
 
James answered for all of us. “No! We’ve fished all night but caught nothing.” 
 
The stranger shouted back, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” 
 
We all blinked at this strange instruction. Nathaniel grumbled, “As if that would make any difference.” Yet my heart burned within me. I didn’t consciously think of it at the time, but it was the same sensation I had had when on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and the stranger. The same I had as I listened to Jesus preach that first time. 
 
“Do it,” James, John and I all said at once. We exchanged a look with one another and took over the net. That was when I realized that they, too, were remembering the same thing I was.
 
It was as if we were right back there, three and a half years ago: the moment we slipped the net on the right side of the boat, the rope grew taut, and fish fought each other to swim in. 
 
“Heave!” John cried, and we tried—but there were too many. We could not even lift the nets back into the boat between the three of us. John’s face split into a wide grin as he turned to look on the shore. The stranger had set a fire on the beach and was tending to it.
 
“It is the Lord!” he cried. 
 
Of course it was—I had known this already. But at John’s declaration, I couldn’t wait even to get the boat back to shore. I had removed my outer garment as we worked, so now I put it on again and jumped into the sea, swimming to Him as fast as my arms and legs could carry me. 
 
Behind me, the other disciples steered the ship to shore, dragging the net in the water behind them. I reached the land only moments before they did, for we had not been far out to sea. 
 
The stranger looked up, first at me, and then at the others, then at me again. I fell to my knees before Him, amazed once again that He looked so different now, though His features had not changed. 
 
“Lord,” I managed, dripping from head to toe. 
 
He smiled back at me, and I saw that He already had fish and bread cooking over the coals. He glanced over my shoulder, and I followed His eyes to the other disciples, who were now attempting to drag the catch of fish from the water to the shore. 
 
“Bring some of the fish which you have just caught,” Jesus said. 
 
I took the Lord’s hint and ran to help. Remarkably, this time the net was not broken. When we laid the fish out on the sand, Bartholomew, the quickest of us with numbers, informed us that we had caught one hundred and fifty three. 
 
“Come and eat breakfast,” Jesus called to us.
 
We took six of the fish, one for each of us plus the fish Jesus had already prepared. We cleaned and roasted them over the fire Jesus had set, largely in silence. I saw all of the other disciples sneaking surreptitious glances at Jesus as if to assure themselves that He was the Lord. He endured this patiently and without comment. When the fish had cooked, He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and did the same with the fish. We ate in silence as well: a silence that was not so much awkward as it was thick, at least for me. I so desperately wanted to make things right. 
 
When we finished breakfast, Jesus turned to me. “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” 
 
A lump sprang to my throat. The word He used for love wasagape. Do I agape—perfectly, selflessly love—Him more than anything else, as I had once so boldly declared? More than anything I wanted to proclaim that I did, but my actions belied this. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” But I used the word phileoin place ofagape. The word meant familial affection. Far less lofty than agape. 
 
Jesus’ eyes bore into mine. “Feed my lambs,” He replied. Silence fell again. I tried to swallow down the lump in my throat. Jesus said again, “Simon, son of Jonah, do youagapeme?” 
 
I felt the other disciples shift around us uncomfortably, but I did not care that they were witnesses. This was between me and the Lord. I had to compose myself before I managed to answer again, “Yes, Lord, you know that Iphileoyou.” 
 
“Tend my sheep,” Jesus replied. Another stretch of silence. Then He ventured once more, “Simon, son of Jonah, do youphileome?” 
 
I bit my lip to keep the tears at bay. I flashed back to the night of His trial, to my three denials that I even knew the man who was dearest to me in the world. He asked me three times to affirm Him now, to erase those denials. But He’d downgraded the word love now fromagapetophileo, the word I insisted upon using. The Lord knew how badly I wanted to use the wordagape—the word that meant I would do anything for Him, even die for Him, as He had for me. But I had made that declaration once before, and broken it hours later. I knew better now. I knew my own weakness.
 
“Lord, you know all things,” I whispered. “You know that Iphileoyou.” 
 
Jesus did not speak for such a long moment that I finally looked up and met His eyes. He gazed at me so tenderly, like a father to his newborn child. No wonder He had called us children. “Feed my sheep,” He said. “Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” 
 
I swallowed, understanding what He meant. I would indeed die for Him one day. Had He given me such a prophecy at any other time, it would have seemed almost like a curse. But right now, it was the purest blessing He could have pronounced. He was telling me I would get another chance, and the next time, I would pass the test: the very thing I wanted most in the world. Briefly, I let the Lord's pure love, His agape, His acceptance wash over me, to cleanse and restore me. 
 
No sooner did I bask in this, though, it was marred by a stab of jealousy as I glanced at John, sitting very close to Jesus. I’d always been just a bit jealous of John’s closeness to the Lord. I think we all had. Before I could stop myself, I pointed at John and said, “But Lord, what about this man?” 
 
Jesus raised his eyebrows at me, and John looked taken aback. I immediately regretted that I’d said it out loud. 
 
“If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you?” was Jesus’ gentle rebuke. “Youfollow me.” 
 
I bowed my head, and turned to look at the enormous catch of fish strewn on shore. He had performed the same miracle when I first met Him, and now again at the end—for I knew this was the end. His remaining time on earth was very short. The first time He had said, “From now on, you will catch men,” and I had left everything to follow Him. Now, after His resurrection, when all of us wondered what our purpose could possibly be, this side of the cross—His answer was the same. 
 
Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. Go and catch men. 
 
I had fished all night with all my worldly equipment and skill and partners, and caught nothing. Yet everything changed when I went whereHedirected, and fished whereHe commanded, with the powerHeprovided. I could not fail. 
 
 
Jul 24, 2020

Today's podcast is an interview with the newest doctor to our care team at Nature Cure Family Health, Dr Laura Villa. To learn more about Dr Villa, click here. https://www.naturecurefamilyhealth.com/doctors/dr-laura-villa/

Jul 17, 2020

This week's meditation and retelling is from 1 Sam 14:1-23. 

This is such a crazy story, and to me, it so perfectly illustrates why Jonathan and David became such good friends. In boldness, they were pretty much the same person.   
 
Jonathan had taken down a garrison of Philistines once before (1 Sam 13:3) before this episode ever occurred, which may well have been what gave him the confidence to propose the idea of two of them attacking an entire garrison, with one sword between them. God never told him to do this—it was his own idea, but it was based upon Jonathan’s understanding that Israel had a covenant with God, and the Philistines didn’t (we know this by the fact that he referred to them as “uncircumcised,” the same way that David referred to Goliath). He did include a caveat, at least: if the Philistines said this, it meant God had given them into the hands of Israel. If they said that, it meant he hadn’t, and they should come back another day. But even that, he made up. He just assumed that God would honor the “fleece” he chose. And sure enough, God did!
 
Why was there only one sword between them, anyway? According to 1 Samuel 13:22, there were only two swords in all of Israel, belonging to the king (Saul) and the crown prince (Jonathan). The Philistines had so oppressed Israel that they had disarmed them, expecting that this would keep this in subjection. No wonder the rest of the Israelites were hiding in caves, even though there were hundreds of them. Not only were the Philistines in a better tactical position, but they had weapons and the Israelites did not. Only Jonathan did not see this as a problem. Like Caleb and Joshua when they saw the giants in the Promised Land, Jonathan was undeterred by what he saw in the natural. When Jonathan and his armor bearer (who didn’t even get a name) moved forward in faith, all they had to do was kill about twenty men. Then, just as in the case of Gideon and the Midianites, God sent fear among the Philistines and they destroyed themselves! Then the Israelites, seeing that their enemy was on the run, decided to join the fight. But it took the faith of Jonathan and his armor bearer to set the whole thing in motion.
 
"Why exactly are we hiding in this cave?” I wanted to know. I asked the question of my armor bearer, who had been with me since my earliest days as a soldier. He was my servant, but I considered him a dear friend too. Certainly, I respected him far more than I did the majority of my father’s soldiers, six hundred of whom just cowered here in the pomegranate cave at Migron, at my father King Saul's apparent direction. “The Philistines are right there. Why don’t we just go slaughter them?” 
    
My armor bearer shrugged, as mystified as I was. Yes, the Philistines were large—giants, some of them. It was also true that our men had no swords; the Philistines had gotten rid of all blacksmiths, and had required us to come to them to sharpen our tools for farming, so that they might keep us in submission. The only two swords in our company belonged to my father and myself. So what? The Philistines were uncircumcised! They had no covenant to protect them. We, on the other hand, had the Lord on our side. We literally could not lose. I’d proven this by defeating the garrison of Philistines at Geba, and all the Hebrews had heard of it. Had they already forgotten? 
 
I sighed, frustrated. I refused to sit here and do nothing for another moment. “I have one of the two swords, have I not?” I muttered aloud, and then gestured at my armor bearer. “Well. You do.” 
 
My armor bearer nodded as a slow smile of anticipation crept across his face. “I do indeed!” 
 
I snuck a surreptitious glance at my father, who was in council with several of his cowardly advisors, and did not notice us. Then I looked at my armor bearer and whispered, “Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, by many or by few.” 
 
The armor bearer grinned back at me, eyes bright. “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish, Behold, I am with you heart and soul!” 
 
I loved this guy. I nodded and whispered, “Behold, we will cross over to the men, and we all show ourselves to them. If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place, and we will not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up, for the Lord has given them into our hand. And this shall be the sign to us.” 
 
I added the caveat, just in case the Lord wanted to stop us for some reason. He hadn’t chosen the sign, it was true, but I knew He directed the steps of His faithful ones, and I knew the covenant promised victory to the Israelites. I only wanted to test whether or not this was the way in which He meant for it to occur. 
 
Together, we crept out of the cave, between two rocky crags named Bozez and Seneh. The Philistines spied us approaching from a distance, and we saw their attention turn to us. Once we were in shouting range, they taunted, “Look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden themselves!” They beckoned us, and cried out, “Come up to us, and we will show you a thing!” 
 
I turned to my armor bearer and we shared a fierce grin. That was exactly what I’d been hoping they’d say. “Come up after me, for the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel!” I declared.
 
I had to climb up using my hands and feet to where the Philistine garrison waited. My armor bearer came after me, sword in its hilt at his side. When I finally reached the top of the rocky crag, something (Someone?) knocked the men down before me as if they had been hit by a great gust of wind. My armor bearer did not waste it: as soon as he crested the hill, he slashed them down right and left, twenty men in all. As this happened, panic spread throughout the camp and the garrison. The men began to flee, and the stampede seemed to make the mountain itself quake. 
 
I turned around, and behind us I finally saw my father and his six hundred men emerge from their cave. But before they ever reached the scene of the battle, it was already half over: there was such confusion in the Philistine garrison that they struck and killed one another. Some of my fellow Israelites were among the Philistines, and they turned upon their fellows. Israelites who had been hiding in the hill country of Ephraim saw and came to join the fight. 
 
In the end, the Philistines fled beyond Beth-aven, and the Lord gave us victory. As I knew very well He would. He had promised He would, and He is not a man, that He should lie!
Jul 10, 2020

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Jul 3, 2020

Today's meditation comes from the story of Hannah's miraculous conception of Samuel, from 1 Samuel 1-2.

This is the text of my retelling: 

 

I had come to hate the yearly trek to Shiloh. Which was terrible! We were going to sacrifice and worship the Lord, and I knew it was wrong to do anything but rejoice—that was what the Lord called us to do, after all. And yet it was the worst time of the year for me. 
 
The rest of the year, I could avoid my husband Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah and her children. At home her family and I lived in different tents, and I managed to fix my daily routine such that I almost never interacted with her at all. I did this because Peninnah was horrible to me at every opportunity. Even if she hadn’t been horrible, seeing her was like an arrow in my heart, as it seemed she was perpetually pregnant or nursing. She now had six children--and I none. As if that weren’t enough, she took every opportunity to taunt me for my barrenness. Elkanah tried to tell me this was because she was jealous of his love for me, and seemed to expect this would comfort me. It didn’t. I valued my husband’s love greatly, but it in no way compensated me for the children I lacked, and I was not compassionate enough to empathize with my rival’s motives. My own pain was too acute. 
 
During the yearly trek to Shiloh, though, we all traveled together as a family—Elkanah, his two wives, and Peninnah’s children. I couldn’t get away from her. After Elkanah’s sacrifice, when it came time to eat the sacrificial meat, he distributed portions to his wives and children. As if to compensate me for my barrenness, he gave me a double portion. He meant well, but even this wrung tears from my eyes. Peninnah taunted me even about this: what a sorry exchange this was, how glad she was that she had children rather than extra meat. I shoved my plate away and ran out of the tent so that I might cry alone, my appetite spoiled. 
 
Elkanah, a gentle man, followed me into the night and put his arms around me. “Hannah, why do you weep?” he asked me softly, though of course he knew the answer. And I could not reply to him anyway. “And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” 
 
I let him hold me, but there was no satisfactory reply to this. The answer was a decided no, but he would not understand this, and would be hurt by it. After all, he had no need of more sons—he had them already, by Peninnah. Also, he was not only mine. I would always, always have to share him, not only with her but also with her children. I felt like an interloper on a family tableau, the one person who did not belong. 
 
After a reasonable amount of time had elapsed such that Elkanah would not feel slighted, I tightened and then released my embrace. 
 
“Give me leave to visit the Temple,” I murmured, wiping the tears from my eyes. 
 
Elkanah looked slightly puzzled, but nodded. “Of course, if you wish to seek the Lord alone.” 
 
I nodded and hurried off, scarcely noticing Eli the priest sitting beside the doorpost of the Temple as I entered. The Temple was otherwise empty, as the sacrifices had taken place earlier that day, and all the priests, like my husband, had taken their portions back to their families to feast and celebrate. This was precisely what I wanted—to be alone. When I reached the Court of Women, the Outer Court, I fell to my knees and released all the tears I had held back throughout the day and the journey. Between sobs, I poured out my heart in my spirit--and though my lips moved, my voice remained silent. 
 
“O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” I meant by this last addition that he would be a Nazirite, holy and set apart to the Lord. It was desperation that made me say all this. Once it was out of my mouth, it occurred to me that I was attempting to bargain with God. Was that okay? I knew the scriptures reasonably well, as my husband was a priest, but the only example I could think of where anyone said to God, ‘if you do this for me, I’ll do that for you’ was the Judge Jephthah, who said that if God helped him win the battle against the Ammonites, he would sacrifice the first thing that greeted him when he returned home from battle. It turned out to be his daughter. Not exactly an example I wished to follow, and yet—that’s what desperation does. A few years ago, I would never have made such a vow as to part with my firstborn son, not for anything in the world. Now I would do it with all my heart, if the Lord would only listen and remember me…
 
I did not see Eli the priest approach as I prayed on my knees until he spoke. His tone and his words were harsh. 
 
“How long will you go on being drunk?” he demanded, and when I looked up at him I saw the scowl on his face. “Put your wine away from you.” 
 
“No, my lord,” I gasped, understanding that he thought I had overindulged at the feast. “I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” 
 
The priest’s face softened, and he rested a hand on my shoulder as he answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 
 
I bowed my head, closing my eyes against the answering flood of tears that threatened yet again—only this time they were tears of gratitude. The High Priest himself had just blessed me! Scriptural precedent or not, that meant I had my petition of the Lord!      
 
“Let your servant find favor in your eyes,” I managed, as I stood and dried my eyes, beaming at the priest. Then I hurried back to our tent, suddenly ravenous. I had a double portion of sacrificial meat still waiting for me, and I could stand anything now, even the taunts from Peninnah. I was as good as pregnant! 
 
Peninnah’s children and she had finished their portions when I returned to eat alone. But Peninnah watched my radiant face closely, frowning. 
 
“What got into you?” she sneered, but I could see that she was troubled by my uplifted mood. 
 
I simply smiled at her, and said, “The Lord is good and gracious!” 
 
She blinked, put off by this response. She rose and left the table without saying a word. 
 
The next morning, we rose, worshiped at the Temple one last time, and returned to our home at Ramah. Elkanah hardly left my side on the return journey, which nettled Peninnah. When we arrived home, he shared my bed. I was not surprised, both because of his concern for me and also because of Eli’s prophecy. 
 
I suspected right then, but I knew for certain within a month that I was with child. I knew before his birth that he would be a son, because that had been my petition of the Lord. Elkanah suggested family names, but I said no—he should be called Samuel, "because I had asked for him from the Lord."
 
The following year, when the time came for the family sacrifice, I begged Elkanah’s leave to remain behind with Samuel. He was only three months old and still nursing; much too young to leave at the Temple with Eli. At first Elkanah did not understand why I could not travel with Samuel and return home with him again, until I explained, “I made a vow to the Lord, and I intend to keep it when the time comes. As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, so that he may appear in the presence of the Lord and dwell there forever.” What I did not tell him was that I didn’t want to make a habit of going to the Temple with Samuel and then returning home with him again. That would make it so much easier for me to tell myself, ‘I’ll leave him with Eli next year,’ and when next year came, to say the same again. I did not want to tempt myself not to keep my vow to the Lord. 
 
Five years later, Samuel was fully weaned, and the time had come. I made the yearly journey once again to the Temple to worship, and reminded myself that this was a time for joy and not for mourning. The Lord had granted my request! Yet my heart ached at the idea of leaving behind my only son forever. Samuel was a serious, reserved child, well suited for service to the Lord—and yet still, he was so young. Would he be frightened? Of course he would be frightened to be left among strangers. Was I doing the right thing? Perhaps I should take him home again and return again next year, when he was a bit older—
 
“Why are you sad, Mama?” Samuel had crept into our traveling tent beside me. I had explained to him already that he would remain in the house of the Lord, while his father and I would return home to Ramah without him. He had not seemed disturbed by this, but I had assumed that was because he didn’t really understand what I’d said.
 
I looked at my little boy, so peaceful and trusting, and my anguish began to ebb away. “Do you understand that you will remain at Shiloh, while I and your father and all that you know will return home to Ramah?” I asked him. 
 
He nodded. “Yes. You told me so already.”
 
“And you are not afraid?” 
 
He blinked at me, frowned, and shook his head. “I will be with the Lord, will I not?” 
 
“Yes, my darling. You will dwell with the Lord forever.” 
 
“Then why would I be afraid?” 
 
A little sob of gratitude rose up in my throat, but I swallowed it down, and hugged my son close. It was as if the Lord himself had whispered, peace to my soul.  
 
When we arrived at Shiloh, Elkanah and I brought Samuel to the Temple, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine as a sacrifice. Elkanah slaughtered the bull, and when he had finished offering the sacrifice, together we brought Samuel to Eli. Samuel, fearless little man he was, stepped forward to meet Eli boldly. Eli looked down at the boy quizzically, and then up at me. 
 
“Oh, my lord!” I said, “As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” 
 
Samuel looked at me. “Is the Lord in this place, Mama?” 
 
“Yes, my darling.” I stifled the sob that rose in my throat, and tucked his hair behind his ear. 
 
And then, as if he knew exactly what to do, Samuel fell to his knees, and raised his little hands in worship. Eli’s face lit with delight, and something moved me to kneel beside him. The words that came to my lips were not my words—they flowed far too well, as if I were reading something written long ago. I spoke aloud, in the presence of the high priest. 
 
“My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.” I thought of Peninnah’s face as I said these words, and felt a fierce swell of satisfaction. She did not taunt me anymore. “There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.” I had a sense that I was now prophesying, speaking of something broader than just of Peninnah and myself. Was the Lord reminding me of His goodness, to give me strength to leave Samuel behind? “Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.” Oh, let that be a prophesy for me! I thought. “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” Now I knew I was prophesying, for Israel had no king—our King was the Lord. We had only judges. Who was to be the king? I looked at Samuel, and wondered—would he be one of the judges? Or would he have anything to do with future kings of Israel? 
 
When my psalm had finished, Elkanah put an arm around my shoulders and led me from the Temple, leaving Samuel behind. We had discussed that it would be best to go quickly, and not look back. 
 
I was surprised, pleasantly so, that a balm of peace spread over my soul as I went. Though now ostensibly all was as it was before, and I was effectively childless, Peninnah never taunted me again. In my secret moments of sorrow, I clung to the prophesy that had sprung from my own lips: “the barren has borne seven.” I knew seven was a number of perfection and completion and perhaps not literal, but surely one was not a number of perfection and completion, was it? 
 
Yet for the next few years, when we returned for the sacrifice and I brought Samuel a new and slightly larger little robe I had made for him, he remained my only son. He was happy and at peace each time I saw him, and this was consolation to me. 
 
And yet. 
 
When Samuel was seven, before we left, Eli the priest approached us, placing a hand on each of our shoulders. With a fond look at Samuel, he said to Elkanah, “May the Lord give you children by this woman for the petition she asked of the Lord.” 
 
Oh, what a joy those words were! Spoken by the high priest, just as the first blessing had been, I knew they carried with them the same seeds of promise. 
 
In the succeeding years, as Elkanah and I returned for the yearly sacrifice, I introduced Samuel to his brothers and sisters: five of them in all, six including him. As many as Peninnah had. 
 
And yet, each year as Samuel grew strong in the presence of the Lord, I became more certain that he would be the greatest of them all. The hand of the Lord was upon his life, and he had been born for a purpose. My vow had been no coincidence.  I watched eagerly for glimmers of what he was to become. 

 

Jun 26, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, Wisdom in a Time of Chaos.

The TED talk mentioned can be found here

Let's Get Checked: trylgc.com/cnh, and enter the coupon code CNH20 for 20% off your order.

Jun 19, 2020

Today's podcast meditation and retelling comes from Judges 6-7. 

In Judges 6, Israel was overrun with the neighboring Midianites. These were the descendants of Abraham’s second wife, Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2), after Sarah passed away.

Gideon must have been a young man, since he was still living in his father’s household—though many of the Israelites were dwelling in caves at the time to hide from the Midianites, so it’s unclear to me whether he too was living in a cave. In the retelling, I assumed so.
The story opens with Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress to hide from the Midianites. Winepresses were dug out of the ground, and threshing is the removal of the kernel of grain from its stalk. This can be done by beating it by hand, or using animals to tread over the grain. Once the kernel has been separated, it is separated from the chaff (the part you don’t eat) by throwing it up in the air and letting the wind blow it away. If Gideon had done this above ground, the Midianites would come and steal what little he had. So this opening scene is rather pitiful. A winepress is also used elsewhere in scripture to symbolize God’s wrath and judgment (Isaiah 63:3-6, Lamentations 1:15, Joel 3:12-13), which makes sense: the Israelites are in this predicament of servitude in the first place because they have disobeyed the Lord, and they’re on the wrong side of the covenant (Deuteronomy 28). God told them exactly what would happen if they disobeyed Him and ran after other gods.

But God is merciful, and every time Israel disobeys Him and suffers the consequences, they cry out to Him for deliverance. Gideon is God’s answer to their prayers, only he doesn’t know it yet. He doesn’t much want to be God’s answer, either: he’s very much a reluctant hero, which makes me wonder if he was just the best God had to choose from among the Israelites of that time. He’s certainly no David.

It’s interesting to me that before God delivers the Israelites, the first thing He has Gideon do is destroy the idol to Baal. It’s like He’s reminding the people, You want me to help you? Remember the First Commandment? Remember why you’re in this situation in the first place? A covenant is a covenant, and they’ve disobeyed their side of it. God is just, and He’s not going to simply ignore the fact that the Israelites are in violation. He needs to get them back on the right side of the covenant before He can fulfill His end of the bargain. Praise God, Jesus did this for us, and now we are always on the right side of the covenant—Jesus became a curse for us and so redeemed us forever from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13).

Gideon wasn’t thrilled about pulling down Baal’s altar; he knew that the worthless men of Israel would come against him and might even threaten to kill him for it. So he does it at night, when no one is awake to see it. It doesn’t matter—by the next morning, somehow everyone knows it was him anyway, and they come knocking at his family home/cave and demanding of his father Joash that he give up Gideon so they can kill him for it. Even though Joash had worshipped Baal too, he surprisingly defends Gideon with words that echo the wisdom of Gamaliel in the New Testament: when Peter and John are standing trial before the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel advises the Pharisees to let them go on the grounds that if what they are teaching is not from God, it will dissipate anyway. But if it is from God, they will only find themselves fighting against God (Acts 5:38-39). Similarly, Joash tells the people who want to kill his son, if Baal is a god, he can contend with Gideon himself! They accept this logic, give Gideon a new name (Jerubbaal, meaning ‘let Baal contend,’) and go away.
Now that God has His people back on the right side of the covenant, He sends Gideon into battle against the Midianites. Gideon then asks for his infamous fleece sign, to verify to him that he indeed heard God speak: that in the morning, the fleece will be wet and all the ground dry. Gideon knows he heard God; the request implies that he’s struggling to believe what He said. This becomes especially true when Gideon gets his request, and then thinks, What if that was coincidence? So he asks again, and this time reverses the request. This time, he wants the fleece dry and the ground wet! Meanwhile, all the armies of Israel are assembling to fight. I wonder what he planned to do if his fleece sign didn’t work as he expected! Tell them all to go home, I guess? I’m kind of amazed at how patient the Lord was with Gideon through all this. Perhaps that is because Gideon has never seen a miracle before (as he says at the beginning of Judges 6)—he’s only heard the stories of his ancestors. It’s not like the Israelites coming out of Egypt who saw God’s power literally every day. One of God’s principles is, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48). Paul even says in 1 Timothy 1:13, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”

So God grants Gideon his two fleece signs. Then Gideon presumably is feeling pretty confident with his 32,000 fighting men, even though the Midianites are described as “numberless.” Then God told him, no. He knew that if Gideon took that many men into battle, being a faithless people for the most part (that’s how they got in this predicament in the first place), they would forget God and glorify themselves for the victory (
Deuteronomy 8:17). God didn’t want them to be able to boast (1 Corinthians 1:26-29); He wanted to make sure they knew this was all Him. So He whittled the army down to three hundred.

Now, Gideon freaks out again. Can’t say I really blame him. God realizes He needs to give Gideon yet another sign, but this time God makes it up: He tells Gideon to take his servant and go down to the Midianite camp (which is kind of funny in itself: you’re afraid to go with your army of 300, so how about you go to the enemy camp alone! That sounds less nerve-wracking.)  We’re told over and over again that the Midianites are numberless, like locusts, so how does Gideon know where to go? God takes care of that part. He takes Gideon right where he needs to go, and then gives one of the Midianites a dream, and his buddy the interpretation of the dream: that Gideon is going to defeat them all! God presumably could have given that dream to one of the Israelites, but then it could have been written off as wishful thinking. Not so when the same dream and interpretation comes out of the mouths of Gideon’s enemies, and God supernaturally leads Gideon right where he needs to go to hear it.

Now, at last, Gideon is ready. There’s nothing in the story to indicate that God gave him a battle strategy—it seems that Gideon came up with the trumpets, pitchers, and lanterns idea on his own. But it makes sense: obviously 300 swords against a numberless army isn’t going to work! Gideon separates his army into three groups of one hundred, and sends each group to a different quadrant of the Midianite army. It was at night, which was key to the deception: the Midianites could not actually see how few of them there were. All they heard was smashing of pitchers, blowing of trumpets, and shouts all around them, and they saw lanterns that looked like they were surrounded. We can also gather, by the dream and its interpretation, that God had already struck fear into the hearts of the Midianites—so this was no more than what they expected. Panicked people don’t behave rationally, so they assumed that Gideon’s army was already upon them, and they started fighting each other! They defeated themselves by the power of deception. Then, as in many other disproportionate battles in scripture, the other Israelites who had been sent home saw the Midianites as they fled and joined in the battle.

After the battle, Gideon was honored as the next Judge of Israel for 40 years. Unfortunately, he did not end well. Despite God’s amazing deliverance, once they had peace, Gideon led the people into worshipping other gods. It must have broken the Lord’s heart: no matter how spectacular His deliverance, no matter how He provided for his people, once they were no longer in crisis they continually forgot Him. All He wanted was their love and worship! But Israel knew only God’s deeds; they did not know His ways (Psalm 103:7). They missed His Father heart for them. God’s kindness was always meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

This retelling is, of course, through Gideon’s eyes.


 
My father Joash used to tell me that I was born old. I’d never truly been a carefree child. I was serious, responsible, and prone to worry. This had only intensified in the last seven years, spanning my late childhood and early adulthood. Israel had been oppressed for those long years by the Midianites—ironically also descendants of Abraham, though by his second wife Keturah, rather than by our Princess of a Multitude, Sarah. The blood we shared created no kinship between us, however: the innumerable Midianites had decimated our land. Any food we planted and harvested, they took for themselves. Any animals they confiscated. They had reduced us to hiding in mountain caves and strongholds, pitiful and starving. Many of us died of starvation, though the rains were plentiful and the land bountiful: it did not matter. Ours was a manmade famine. 
 
I, for one, was furious—but not just with the Midianites. I was also furious with my fellow Israelites, who persisted in their worship of Baal. I knew enough of the scriptures to strongly suspect that our oppression had been permitted by the Lord, because we were on the wrong side of the Mosaic covenant. We had forsaken Him, so He forsook us. Yet even in our oppression, the Israelites continued to worship false gods! I could not comprehend how they failed to make the connection, particularly after a prophet came to us and told us that our oppression was due to our disobedience. Were the old stories so distant to them that they regarded them as nothing more than fairy tales? Did they not remember Moses and the plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, Joshua and the battle of Jericho?  
 
If I were completely honest, I was also angry with the Lord. We were His chosen people, yet we were reduced to this! I knew it was unfair of me to feel this way. The Lord had told us clearly in the Torah what would happen if we did not follow after Him wholeheartedly. We had not upheld our end of the covenant. Our misery was no more than we deserved. He had not broken His word. Yet here I was, skulking in caves and threshing wheat in a winepress so that the Midianites would not see and confiscate what little I had to live on. It was pathetic. 
 
I wiped the sweat from my brow when I’d come to a stopping place, and climbed out of the winepress. Nearby was a terebinth tree, one of the few living things that still survived in Israel. Presumably that was because the tree produced nothing edible. I startled to see a man sitting beneath the tree, watching me. My heart went to my throat: at first I assumed he was one of the Midianites. But they did not travel alone: they swooped down en masse like a swarm of locusts. The man sat patiently, his robes new and clean, the lines of his face smooth and unconcerned. 
 
“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor!” was his surprising greeting.
 
My mind did quick math. The man’s robes were too clean, almost glowing. He face seemed radiant with an inner glory. These things combined with his strange greeting, as if he knew me and had been waiting for me, told me this was no ordinary man. I might have thought his epithet for me was sarcastic, but there was no sarcasm in his tone. Rather, the words had almost the effect of a spell. I felt emboldened by them. 
 
Something about the man’s countenance invited confidence, too. So, in response to his greeting, I spilled out all my pent up emotions. “Please, sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” 
 
The man listened to my outburst, unperturbed. Then he said with ringing authority, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” 
 
I blinked, inspecting the man once again. Was it possible? I had thought perhaps this might be an angel. But could it be the Lord Homself? Hope, fear, and doubt mingled in my breast as I said, “Please, Lord,” I tested him with this title, “how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” This was true: I was the youngest of my father’s sons, and the weakest in physical might. Of all the men of Israel that the Lord might have picked as his champion, I seemed the unlikeliest choice. 
 
The man answered, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” 
 
I took this in for a moment, uncertain. Finally I said, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.” He knew what I meant. In the old stories, when people spoke to the Lord or to angels, they always knew it. This man was not so remarkable as all that. At least, I still felt like there was room for doubt. “Please do not depart from here until I come to you and bring out my present and set it before you.”
 
He inclined his head. “I will stay till you return.” 
 
I went into the cave that served as my family home, where we hid our stores of food and our flocks. I prepared a young goat, and placed the meat in a basket and the broth in a pot. As these were cooking, I took an ephah of flour to prepare unleavened cakes. Then I took all of it back to the terebinth tree and presented them to the man. 
 
“Take the meat and the unleavened cakes and put them on this rock,” he said, indicating a large flat stone, “and pour the broth over them.” 
 
I obeyed and stepped back. Then the man took the staff he carried, and reached out its tip to touch the offering. Fire sprang up from the rock, and consumed the meal, The the man vanished, right before my eyes. 
 
I gasped, suddenly trembling all over. “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” 
 
A word came to my spirit then. I knew it was not of myself, because it felt Other and carried with it a balm to my soul. “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” 
 
I needed to do something. I needed to respond to this great thing that had happened. My ancestors all seemed to respond in the same way, by building an altar and naming it according to their experience of the Lord in that place, so I did the same. I assembled stones to build an altar, placing the flat one that had just served as the platter for my offering at its pinnacle, now scorched by the angel’s fire. I named the altar The Lord is Peace, for the word He had spoken to my soul. 
 
I spent the rest of that day ruminating on what the angel had said to me, though. Save Israel from the hand of Midian? How was I supposed to do that? Where should I even begin?
 
In the night, the Lord answered me… sort of. “Take your father’s bull, and the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the Asherah that is beside it and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, with stones laid in due order. Then take the second bull and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the Asherah that you shall cut down.” 
 
This made sense, I thought. The reason why Israel had been oppressed was because of our disobedience. So the very first step would be to turn their hearts back to the Lord; then they would be on the right side of the covenant, and then the Lord would be just in routing our enemies. But even this lesser command caused me to tremble in fear of the men of Israel who worshipped Baal and Asherah, not to mention of my own family. They would take it as a great offense if I were to do this thing. They would no doubt even seek my life for it. Of course, I had to obey a direct command from the Lord, though. He’d spoken to me in the night for a reason, though, surely? Perhaps he meant for me to do the deed in the cover of darkness, so that no one would know it was me?
 
I approached ten of my servants that night, and shook them awake. “The Lord has commanded me to tear down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah pole, and rebuild the altar of the Lord,” I explained when I had assembled them together. “Then we are to offer a bull as a sacrifice for the many sins of Israel, and use the Asherah pole for wood.” I saw my own trepidation reflected in their faces, though to a lesser degree—after all, I would be held responsible for the act if anyone found out who had done it, not they. But they did as I commanded. We worked until the darkest part of the early hours, and retired to our beds before dawn. I couldn't sleep, though. I lay awake, heart pounding, waiting for someone to discover the deed and demand my blood in payment. 
 
Sure enough, by morning, the men of Israel had seen, had inquired, and had determined that I was responsible.
 
“Bring out your son, that he may die!” I heard angry voices demand of my father Joash. “For he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it!” Many clamors of agreement echoed the sentiment. I was seized with fear, and hid in the interior of the cave, imagining what it might be like to die by stoning. Somewhere in the back of my mind, as I cowered, the angel’s words came back to me. 
 
Mighty man of valor, indeed
 
“Will you contend for Baal?” my father’s surprising answer echoed back to me. “Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 
 
I was stunned. Then, I felt a rush of gratitude toward my father. I had half expected him to hand me over to the mob, rather than defend me. After all, he too had worshipped Baal! Yet here he was, threatening those who came against me with death! Grumbles of the men reached my ears, and I heard the term “Jerubbaal” used to refer to myself, as in “let Baal contend against him.” But they said this as they left our household, obeying the demand of my father. When they had gone, I emerged from the depths of the cave, afraid to meet my father’s eyes and see his disapproval. But he surprised me yet again. He nodded when he saw me, a look of respect on his face. 
 
“You did what I should have done long ago, son,” he said. “It took great courage, and reminded us all of Whom we truly serve. I am proud of you.” 
 
I blinked, unable to reply due to the lump in my throat. Instead I nodded back, and my father clapped me on the shoulder. 
 
I pondered his words, replaying them over and over again in my mind, along with the angel’s greeting. The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor
 
What was true? Who was I: Gideon who hid in a cave and in a winepress, Gideon who obeyed the word of the Lord only by night and in cover of darkness, and then quailed in fear of discovery? Or Gideon, mighty man of valor, pride of his father? 
 
Who did I want to be? 
 
In the following days, the Midianites and the Amalekites joined forces and crossed the Jordan, camping on our land in the Valley of Jezreel. Already a change had begun in me after the incident with the altar and the words from my father. Until then, fear had prevailed. Now, a righteous anger from the Lord took its place, consuming all fear, and all at once, I grew bold. What would a mighty man of valor do? I thought. The Lord had told me to go up against the Midianites, had he not? I needed an army for this, did I not? So I sounded my trumpet, and sent out messengers to the nearby tribes to join me in fighting against our enemies. Nevermind that these were the very men who sought to kill me for dismantling their altar not long ago. They would come, because the Lord willed it. 
 
Alas. Once the messengers had been sent, the boldness of the Lord left me, and my old friend Fear returned. I replayed my encounter with the angel who had burned up my offering with fire and vanished before my eyes. I rehearsed his words to me, trying to beat back the fear and recapture the boldness that I had felt just hours before. 
 
It was no use. The fear was winning. I felt a little sick to my stomach that night, as I thought of the sea of the Midianite and Amalekite armies. No matter how many of the Israelites responded to my call—thousands, perhaps—we would still be hideously outnumbered. And I had never even seen battle before. What did I know of commanding an army, or the strategy of war? Images of my own slow death played on repeat in my mind, gored by a Midianite sword… I just wanted to be sure the Lord hadn’t changed His mind about me, or that I hadn’t somehow misunderstood
 
“O Lord,” I murmured, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 
 
When I arose the next morning, the fleece was not just damp; it was so wet, I wrung out enough dew to fill a bowl with water. The surrounding ground was dry. 
 
But, what if I hadn’t made my test hard enough? Perhaps the dew fell in the night, collected in the fleece and was trapped in its fibers, but there was enough time for it to evaporate from the rest of the ground! I should have done it the other way around, I thought; this sign could have just been coincidence. 
 
I thought about this all day, as the men of Israel began to arrive in companies and camped all around, awaiting my orders. I now had two signs, I reminded myself: the angel, and the fleece filled with dew. But what if the angel had been… something else? I had no idea what else, since I’d never seen any creature conjure fire or vanish like that before, but he’d sure looked like an ordinary man. Perhaps my eyes had played tricks on me, or perhaps he was a magician, like those in the household of Pharaoh in the days of Moses. As for the fleece: I’d really almost explained that away. I felt convinced now that the same would happen every night, if I laid out the same fleece, because that was just the way of things. 
 
So I prayed that night, as the armies assembled around me, “O Lord, let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 
 
When I awoke the next morning, I was almost afraid to set my feet upon the fleece. If it were damp, what would I tell all the assembled men, after my bold proclamations? And I was sure it would be damp…
 
But no. It was bone dry, while the surrounding ground was slick with moisture. I closed my eyes in a prayer of thanks. I had not assembled my armies in vain. The Lord was with me. The Lord would deliver us by my hand. I was a mighty man of valor. I chanted these words in my mind, that I might come to believe them. Mighty man of valor. Mighty man of valor. 
 
That morning, I assembled all those with me, 33,000 men in all, and we marched to camp beside the spring called Harod. The camp of the Midianites was north of us, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. When we arrived, I sought the Lord for battle strategy. 
 
I wished I hadn’t.
 
“The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” 
 
Can I be one of those? I thought but did not say, though of course the Lord knew I was thinking it. But, I was on the hook now. The Lord had given me all my requested signs; how could I not obey? So I made the announcement to the men of Israel, and 22,000 of my troops responded and went home, much to my dismay. I had only 10,000 men left. 
 
The Lord spoke to me again. “The people are still too many.” 
 
Are you kidding me? I thought. I was already in a panic over ten thousand, versus an army without number. 
 
The Lord went on, “Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” 
 
I did as the Lord commanded, taking my remaining meager ten thousand men down to the spring. Each of them naturally approached the water for a drink. The Lord spoke to me and said, “Everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, everyone who kneels down to drink.”
 
I thought I knew where this was going, and I didn’t like it one bit. But I did as the Lord commanded. Of course, the vast majority knelt down to drink and cupped the water in their hands, or else placed their faces directly in the water. Lapping was highly inefficient, so of the ten thousand, only three hundred men chose it. I was surprised it was even that many. 
 
I knew what the Lord would tell me even before the word came. 
 
“With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” 
 
My voice was hoarse, and it might have squeaked once or twice when I made this announcement to the men. I wondered what the result might be if I asked those remaining 300 now which of them was afraid. 
 
The Lord spoke to me again as night fell, with the numberless camp of Midian below us in the valley.
 
“Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand. But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, and you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” 
 
I almost laughed at the irony.If I’m afraid to go with my meager army, go by myself instead, into the enemy camps. Obviously. But, one thing I was good at, after seven years of occupation: I knew how to hide. I’d been doing it for most of my adult life. 
 
What I did not know, and didn’t realize I didn’t know until I was already in the valley, was that I had no idea where I was going. There were hundreds of thousands of Midianites and Amalekites. Upon whom, exactly, was I supposed to eavesdrop? 
 
I did not have to wonder long. On the periphery of the enemy camp, hidden in shadow, the first two men I came upon talked by a fire. One of them related a dream from the night before to his comrade. 
 
“Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat. It was a very odd dream, to be sure, and it felt different than most usual dreams, is if it were both prophetic and symbolic in some way. What do you suppose it could mean?” 
 
The comrade shook his head and replied with trepidation, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp!” 
 
I almost laughed aloud at the ridiculousness of this conversation. The Lord had given a dream to my enemy, and led me straight where I needed to go in order to hear both dream and interpretation from men who should not even know my name, let alone be inclined to predict their own defeat at my hands! How many signs did I need? I had the angel; I had the fleece, twice; and now, this. At long last, I felt what the angel had first pronounced me to be: a mighty man of valor. 
 
Purah and I snuck back up to the Israelite camps. When we arrived, I announced to the men, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand!” The battle strategy was suddenly obvious to me, as well. How else could three hundred men come against a vast and numberless army, but by trickery and deception? 
 
I divided the three hundred men in three groups of about one hundred each, distributing trumpets, jars, and torches among them. 
 
“Look at me, and do likewise,” I commanded. “When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!” 
 
I and my company of a hundred men gave enough time for the other two companies to get in place around the opposite sides of the Midianite camp. About the middle watch of the night, my company approached the edge of camp. Then I raised the trumpet to my lips, closed my eyes in a silent prayer to the Lord, and blew. 
 
All around me there was a sudden cacophony of trumpets, followed by the shattering of jars, the blaze of torches, and the shouts of a hundred voices, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” Surrounding the Midianite army, the other two companies did the same. The effect in the blackness, I had to admit, was impressive: the noise and the torches made our meager three hundred men seem like a vast army. 
 
The effect was immediate. The Midianites cried out, roused from sleep and caught unawares. Some of them ran. Many of them grabbed their swords, supposing us to be inside their camp, and began to cut one another down. Those who escaped the swords of their fellows fled until morning and long into the day, to Beth-shittah and even as far as the border of Abel-meholah. 
 
As the Midianites fled, men who had abandoned my army at the direction of the Lord came out from their homes and pursued them with us, from the tribes of Naphtali, Asher, and Manasseh. I sent messengers to Ephraim as well, so that they too might help us force the Midianites and Amalekites even as far as the Jordan River. 
 
And so the word of the Lord came true, just as it did in the stories of old: three hundred men routed an army without number, fighting not with swords, but with trumpets, jars, and torches. My only accomplishment in the matter was that I finally believed the Lord, and did as He commanded. I promised myself that if ever I had the chance, I would believe Him much more readily the next time. Before, I had only the stories of my ancestors. Now, I had my own victories as well, which I determined to pass down to my children, and to my children’s children, that they might know and call upon the name of the Lord. He is Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, who fights or me. He is El Shaddai, who destroys my enemies. He is Jehovah Tsidkenu, the Lord my victory and deliverance. And He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. 
 
Jun 12, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post by Dr Mariah Mosley: Germ vs Terrain Theory.

The link for Let's Get Checked for thyroid testing is https://trylgc.com/CNHthyroid

Jun 5, 2020

When David was anointed king, he was between 14 and 17 according to scholars. By this time, he’s thirty years old, and he’s been on the run in Israel with his 600 Mighty Men that whole time. At last, in Chapter 27, David says he will “one day die at Saul’s hand.” That’s definitely not what God said: God said he would be king. But after 13-16 years of running, I can certainly understand that his hope deferred made his heart sick (Proverbs 13:12). He takes his Mighty Men and leaves Israel altogether, to go and dwell in the land of the Philistines. It’s not clear, but I suspect this wasn’t God’s will for him, based on what happens next.

David doesn’t go to just in any Philistine territory, either: he’s in Gath, Goliath’s hometown! King Achish of Gath recognizes him as the hero of whom the Israelites sang, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his tens thousands.” Yet for some reason, Achish trusts David implicitly, giving him and his Mighty Men their own city of Ziklag. From there, David takes his men on raids against the Amalekites and other surrounding enemies of Israel, carrying out God’s instruction to take the territory, as King Saul should have been doing. Yet whenever Achish asks him where he’s been, David tells him he was raiding the Negeb, part of Israel. So he lies, basically. This further convinces Achish that David is his man: the Israelites will never take him back now!

Two things happen as a result of this: first, David makes a lot of enemies among the surrounding nations, who want retribution for his raids and plunder against them. They also know the location of his home base of Ziklag. The second is that, when the Philistines march into battle against Israel, Achish wants David by his side. According to the text, David wants to go, too. Scripture almost never records a person’s motives or thoughts, though; only their actions and words. Knowing what we know of David, it seems extremely unlikely that he meant what he said. The other Philistine leaders refused to let David go into battle with them, though, lest he turn on them from within their own ranks. I’m sure they were right, and David would have done just that. There’s no way the anointed king would have slaughtered his own people!

So David and his men are sent back to Ziklag, which they had left unprotected, expecting to go to war. When they arrive, they find it in flames. The Amalekites took their opportunity for revenge, and ravaged the city. 

Imagine how David and his men felt as they approached the city from a distance, and saw the smoke trailing up into the sky. When they carried out raids against their enemies, they left no survivors. Surely the men would have therefore assumed their families had all been slaughtered! No wonder the Mighty Men, who had been following David for over a decade and had little to show for it, turned on him at last. They spoke of stoning David, blaming him for their devastating loss—and maybe it was his fault! After all, were they supposed to be living among the Philistines? Were they supposed to have gone off to war with Achish, considering David earned their place there through deceit? I’m sure all these thoughts went through David’s head too. Had he irrevocably stepped outside the will of the Lord? Was there no going back?

David’s response to this crisis is truly incredible. He’s been on the run for 13-16 years, clinging to a promise that seems utterly impossible. He made some poor choices, with seemingly devastating consequences. Now, he’s lost everything, and the only men loyal to him have turned against him. But instead of despairing, he “encourages himself in the Lord.” There was no one else to encourage him; they all wanted to kill hiM! He had to do it himself. To dramatize this part, I put David’s own Psalm 61 in his mouth, since that apparently was written about Ziklag, and he may well have penned it during those moments.

Next, he calls for the ephod: a garment worn by the priest, also used to receive direction from the Lord. He then asked the Lord if he should take his men and pursue the Amalekites. The ephod could only give him a yes/no answer, and yet the scripture says that God told him, “pursue; you will recover all.” This must have been a word spoken directly to David’s spirit. I’d imagine it also occurred to David as he spoke to the Lord that there were no bodies at Ziklag, so they must have taken their families captive, rather than slaughtered them! Why? Presumably this was God’s favor and protection, since David and his men showed no such mercy to their enemies.

David manages to convince four hundred of his six hundred men, so lately intent upon stoning him, to accompany him in his raid. Two hundred were too exhausted to go on. David didn’t know where the Amalekites had gone, but God provided direction in the form of one of their abandoned Egyptian slaves. They found him wandering in the desert, where he likely would have died of starvation if not for David and his men’s kindness. In return, the man agrees to lead them to the Amalekites’ camp. The men catch them unawares, reveling and rejoicing in their spoils. David and his four hundred men beat them for twenty-four hours straight until four hundred of the Amalekites escape and flee—the same number of men that David started with!This alone tells us David’s men were vastly outnumbered, yet it doesn't matter. God is with them. And just as God promised, they recovered all: wives, children, livestock, wealth. They even gathered some of the spoils that the Amalekites had taken from other raids, and David sent some of it to Israelite leaders as a gift, to reestablish the contacts he had lost during his time living with the Philistines.

Meanwhile, during the battle against the Philistines, both King Saul and his son Jonathan are killed. David doesn’t learn this until three days afterwards, when a messenger comes to tell him—carrying Saul’s crown. 

The moment has come at long, long last. David is crowned king first of Judah (Saul’s other son Ishbosheth initially succeeds Saul in Israel). Then a few years later, David reunites the entire kingdom. In a period of just a few days, he goes from losing everything, on the verge of losing his life to the men sworn to protect and follow him, to being crowned king.

God can take an utterly impossible situation and turn it around in a moment.

This is the text of my retelling: 

My soul weariness at times threatened to turn my heart bitter. But that, I could not allow. 
 
It had been sixteen years since the day Samuel the prophet had anointed me king. I was a fourteen-year old dreamer then. Now at thirty, I felt as disillusioned as a man twice my age. I could scarcely remember the boy I once was. For most of those years, I had been on the run from King Saul, who ironically was so dear to me that I could not raise my hand against him. For one thing, he still held the position of the Lord’s anointed until the Lord saw fit to remove him, and that alone would have been enough to stay my hand. For another, he had been my father-in-law. Well did I recall the days when I had dreamt of his daughter Michal as the beautiful princess I had never yet seen. As a reward for defeating Goliath, she had become my bride. What a triumph my wedding day had been! One of the pinnacles of my young life, a symbol to me of all that the Lord had promised. 
 
It had been years since I had even seen Michal. By now, I was sure she had been given away to another man. 
 
Saul was also dear to me for the sake of his son, Jonathan. I loved Jonathan far more than any of my brothers by blood. Whatever souls are made of, his and mine were the same. I also owed him my life. Though Jonathan was next in line for the throne, he knew his father sought to kill me, and aided in my escape. He knew of the Lord’s calling on my life, and told me that he planned to give me his throne. He would be content to be second in command, he said! What a friend. Yet it had been many years since I had seen Jonathan, either. I wondered if we would even still recognize one another. 
 
It wasn’t as if the Lord had completely abandoned me in all these years of running and hiding. He had given me my Mighty Men—my own personal army, six hundred in all. True, they were made up of the misfits and former criminals of Israel, the men who were poorly esteemed and therefore had no love for King Saul. They had followed me wherever I went all these years, and so far had nothing to show for their pains. 
 
Finally in exhaustion and discouragement, I’d just gotten tired of never having a place to lay my head. If I stayed in one place in Israel, I feared that Saul would at last find and kill me. That wasn’t what Samuel had prophesied, but what if there were different kinds of prophesies—those that would be, and those that may be? What if my choices made a difference in whether or not the word came to pass? 
 
I could not hope to ask Samuel about this, as word had reached me that he had died. And the truth was, I’d reached the end of my endurance, emotionally. I could not flee anymore within the borders of Israel. So, about a year and four months ago, I’d crossed Israel’s borders into Philistine country, and presented myself before Achish, king of Gath. The irony did not escape me: this was Goliath’s home country, the great warrior I had killed in my youth. King Achish was enormous, like all of the Philistines, but not as large as their champion had been. I shall never forget the confusion on Achish’s face when I presented myself to him, and he did the math, sizing me up. 
 
“Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens thousands,” Achish had murmured to himself. This was the song the young women of Israel had sung in praise of me all those years ago: one of the inciting causes of Saul’s jealousy of me. The song had been sung far and wide, and apparently had even reached Gath. I bowed my head in acknowledgement. 
 
“Yes my lord, that was me.”
 
“But you are so small!” he exclaimed, and I had the impression he had not meant to say it aloud. I laughed, and then he laughed. Suddenly we were friends. 
 
“You would be surprised what this ‘small' man can do with a sword, my lord. Not to mention a sling. You know that story, I trust.” 
 
“I see now why you needed the sling! You would not have been able to reach Goliath with a sword!” It was an exaggeration, but I let the king enjoy his mirth at my expense. I needed him in a good mood. 
 
When he had finished, I said, “Be that as it may, you have heard the stories. I offer my sword to my lord to fight against his enemies, both mine and those of my six hundred fighting men with me.” 
 
Achish shook his head, confused, but remarkably unsuspicious. “Why should Israel’s great hero offer his sword to me?” 
 
I was prepared for this question. I had expected it, and I had the best possible answer. I sighed. “Because King Saul has been trying to kill me for the last fifteen years, and I am tired of fleeing from him in Israel. I do not think he will continue to seek me here, in the land of his enemies.” 
 
“Kill you! One of his best warriors?” Achish exclaimed. “Why should he do such a foolish thing?” 
 
“Jealousy makes a man do strange things, my lord.”
 
“Ah,” Achish’s expression cleared with understanding. “The song.” 
 
I let him think that was all. I did not tell him I had been anointed king in his stead all those years ago. That was a secret that would not serve me well in the country of Israel’s enemies. 
 
Achish not only allowed me to remain within the Philistine borders, but gave to me and to my men the country town called Ziklag. It was the first home base I and my men had known in over a decade. From there, we went out on raids against Israel’s enemies in neighboring territories, doing what the Lord had told King Saul to do: taking the land back from the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. We brought the spoils back with us to Ziklag. Whenever Achish asked what we had been doing, I would always tell him we had raided the Negeb. Why this convinced the king of my loyalty to him, why he never asked any questions, I never knew. Perhaps the Lord gave me favor in his eyes. 
 
Unfortunately, Achish’s trust in me ran so deep that he called upon me and my men to fight with him against Israel. I had suspected that day might come eventually, but it meant the end of our respite. Achish, who had accidentally become a friend of sorts, would know my true loyalties when I and my men began to fight against him for Israel, from among his own ranks. Where would we go then? Having carried out raids against enemies in surrounding nations, we could hardly seek refuge there. Achish would become my enemy. Saul was still trying to kill me, so returning to Israel was less than ideal. But what choice did I have?
 
My men assembled with the Philistine army at Aphek at dusk, to march upon the Israelite army in Jezreel come daybreak. My heart ached with homesickness as we approached. I wondered if any of the soldiers I had known in my youth would be among them. I wondered if Jonathan would be there. Of course he would; he was a man of valor, and would never be content to sit home while the armies of Israel went to war. He would be on the front lines. I would fight by his side, if I could. I only hoped I would not be called upon to kill my friend Achish. 
 
The Philistine commanders stared at my men and me with narrowed eyes. I saw them approach Achish, and I knew what they were saying. “What are these Hebrews doing here?” Achish would defend me, as I knew from his posture that he was doing even as I watched from a distance. “I have found no fault in him to this day!” he would be saying. The commanders’ response looked angry. “He shall not go down with us to battle, lest in the battle he become an adversary to us!” This I imagined, for this was the truth. Shortly, Achish withdrew from his commanders and approached me, his posture telling me what he had to say before I heard his words. 
 
“As the Lord lives, you have been honest, and to me it seems right that you should march out and in with me in the campaign. For I have found nothing wrong in you from the day of your coming to me to this day. Nevertheless, the lords do not approve of you. So go back now; and go peaceably, that you may not displease the lords of the Philistines.” 
 
A great weight lifted from my heart, though it mingled with sadness that my vision of fighting for Israel again, side by side with Jonathan, would not come true. Channeling these mixed emotions, I replied, “But what have I done? What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king?”
 
Achish replied to me, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God. Nevertheless, the commanders of the Philistines have said, ‘He shall not go up with us to the battle.’ Now then rise early in the morning with the servants of your lord who came with you, and start early in the morning, and depart as soon as you have light.” 
 
I told my men the will of the king, to the general relief of all. They did not mind betraying Achish in battle, but they had not cared for the prospect of losing Ziklag. Nor did I. I roused the men and we set off back to Ziklag again at first light, before the battle between Israel and the Philistines began. My heart broke as we left, and I wrestled with sadness and despair and anger on the three days’ journey from Jezreel back to Ziklag. When would I be allowed to return to my homeland, the nation I loved more than my own life’s blood, the nation I had been anointed to rule? I was now thirty years old, and I had been anointed at fourteen! How much longer? Had I somehow already missed my opportunity? When I came to the land of the Philistines, even though I had remained loyal to Israel throughout, had I stepped irrevocably outside the will of the Lord? Would He not tell me? Would He say nothing?  
 
I was still in this dark mood when we came to Ziklag, longing to pour out my heart to Abigail, my wise and clever wife who always seemed to know what to say and do. But as soon as the city came into view, I stopped abruptly. So did all six hundred of my men. 
 
The smoke of the city’s remains trailed up to the sky. 
 
I fell to my knees and let out a wail of grief. All around me, my men did the same, shouting and weeping. Some ran on ahead to inspect the decimated city close up, but we found exactly what we knew we’d find: there was nothing, and no one left. 
 
You did this,” snarled one of my men at last, extending a shaking finger at me, cold fury in his eyes. Then he raised his voice to his fellows. “This is David’s doing! He led the raids against the Amalekites, and this is their retribution! He left our city and our wives and our children defenseless while we went off to fight a duplicitous war! This is what we get in return for years of loyalty to him! Let’s kill him! Stone him, it’s no more than he deserves!” 
 
I recoiled in shock, but could not muster the strength to reply. I hid my face, despair threatening to crush me from the inside. The mighty man’s declaration met with grumbles of agreement, but without any real animosity behind them. They did not hate me, I knew; not truly. They were bitter in soul at the loss of their wives and their children, and wanted someone to blame. No doubt, I was to blame: I was the one who made all the decisions that had led us to this place. Perhaps I did deserve to die. Perhaps it would be better if I died; then all my struggles in this miserable world would be over. 
 
No. The word rose up on the inside of me unbidden, like a beacon of hope. It did not come from me, but it stopped my destructive thoughts in their downward spiral. No. The Lord was good. His promises still stood, no matter how impossible things looked. I would encourage myself in the Lord; I would not allow myself to despair. 
 
“Hear my cry, O God,” I whispered, “listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name. Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations! May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.”
 
I felt steadier when I had finished praying. Then, suddenly, it occurred to me how strange it was that there were no bodies. That meant the Amalekites had taken our wives and children alive. Why had they done so? In our raids against our enemies, we had left no survivors. All was not lost; those we loved yet lived, though among our enemies, and surely our livestock and wealth too had been plundered, but not destroyed!
 
I knew what I had to do next. I called to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, and said, “Bring me the ephod.” He brought me the garment worn by the priest, used in both worship and in seeking the will of the Lord. I sought direction now. Beneath the breastplate, I removed Urim and Thummim, flat stones with markings upon them. Then I prayed to the Lord, “Shall I pursue after this band? Shall I overtake them?” The stones themselves were capable of only yes or no answers. They now said yes, but I heard in my spirit, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake and shall surely rescue.” I closed my eyes. Relief flooded me, as if the raid were already complete. This mourning would not last. It would be turned to joy!
 
I stood and announced to my men, “The Lord has told me to pursue the Amalekites. We shall overtake them and rescue our families!” I announced. “Come, we have no time to lose!” 
 
The reception of this announcement was mixed. Some received it with immediate relief, as I had. Some cursed me for my optimism. Some merely watched me with hopelessness and exhaustion. But at last I persuaded all six hundred of them to arm themselves once again, and follow me. 
 
It became apparent, though, that two hundred of my company were too exhausted to participate in the raid, heartsick as well as weary. I know from too much experience that the former can be far worse than the latter. A crushed spirit who can bear? Quite frankly, I did not want their negativity in our company anyway, as the mood was infectious. I was more than happy to leave them behind at the brook Besor. The four hundred remaining men and I rode on in the general direction of where the raiding band of Amalekites was likely to be. Truth be told, I did not know exactly where I was going, and hoped the Lord would give me a sign.
 
It came, in a surprising form: a dark-skinned, weak, and half starved man, wandering alone in open country. He was some distance away from us, but I called my men to halt, and to bring him to me. I had compassion on him, and before we spoke, I ordered him to be given bread and water from our stores. When he ate this hungrily, I encouraged the men to find him something more: a cake of figs, and two clusters of raisins. 
 
When he had eaten and was satisfied, his eyes brightened and his whole countenance changed. At last, I asked him, “To whom do you belong? And where are you from?” 
 
The man answered, “I am a young man of Egypt, servant to an Amalekite, and my master left me behind because I fell sick three days ago. We had made a raid against the Negeb of the Cherethites and against that which belongs to Judah and against the Negeb of Caleb, and we burned Ziklag with fire.” 
 
There was a murmuring ripple through my men at this information. My heart leapt within me with fierce joy: this mistreated man was the Lord’s provision for us!
 
“Will you take me down to this band?” I asked him.
 
A brief look of trepidation flitted across the man’s features, but then it cleared. Had we not already proven ourselves kinder than the master he left? “Swear to me by God that you will not kill me or deliver me into the hands of my master, and I will take you down to this band.” 
 
“Do this for us, and after that your life shall be your own,” I swore. “We shall even send you on your way with a portion of the spoils.” 
 
So the servant led us where we needed to go, right to the heart of the Amalekite camp. We found them unawares, eating and drinking and dancing in celebration of their great spoils from the Philistines and from Judah. No doubt they expected no one to pursue them, as the battle between the Philistines and Israel still raged on. Had we not been sent away by Achish, we too would still have been at war. 
 
Alas for them! My men, revived and incensed at the sight, attacked and struck down the Amalekites from twilight that day until the evening of the next. Of the entire company of them, only four hundred escaped on mounted camels—the same number of my entire avenging army. 
 
When the fighting was done, I sought among the women and children we had rescued for my two wives, Abigail and Ahinoam. All around us, my exhausted and filthy men reunited with their families with shouts and tears. Best of all, not a single thing was missing that the Amalekites had taken, whether small or great, sons or daughters, spoil or anything that had been taken. We recovered all. We even took flocks and herds that had not belonged to us, driving them before us on our return journey to the brook Besor where we left the other two hundred men. Some of the four hundred who had come with me grumbled and begrudged their brothers their portion of the spoils, but I rebuked them for this. 
 
“The Lord has preserved us and given into our hand the band that came against us. Who would listen to you in this matter? For as his share is who goes down into the battle, so shall his share be who stays by the baggage. They shall share alike.” I was in a generous mood, and besides, I did not wish to alienate one third of my men, nor to encourage favoritism. We were a family, and we would act like one. 
 
When we returned to our burned and ruined city, I sent portions of the spoil to the elders of Judah, saying, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the Lord.” It was a way for me to reestablish contact with the men of my country, from whom I had been estranged during the long years of my flight. Some of the spoil had originally been theirs, too, according to the Egyptian servant, whom we had also sent away a wealthy man. 
 
In the following two days, the men set about rebuilding Ziklag, though I did not join them. I knew in my heart that I would not be here long enough, though I did not know why.  
 
On the third day after our return, I had my answer. I saw a messenger running toward me, his clothes torn and dirty. I froze, as if my heart had turned to stone. He carried with him a crown and an armlet. 
 
He carried a crown
May 29, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, The Effects of CBD.

May 22, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation on and retelling of 1 Kings 19. 

This is the test for the retelling: 

I wasn’t even winded, despite running all the way from Mount Carmel to the city of Jezreel. I was, however, soaked to the bone. This was just as well, as it washed away all the blood from my skin and clothes. I didn’t think anything would ever fully remove the stains, though. 
 
It still stormed when I took shelter from the driving rain against the wall of the fortress shielded from the direction of the wind. I shook from adrenaline, too. It had been quite a day. Three and a half years ago, I’d prophesied a draught over Israel for their disobedience to the Lord, which would last until I said it was over. I’d spent most of those three years in hiding, since I knew that King Ahab and Queen Jezebel would love to kill me as the source of their troubles—though at the same time, I knew they wouldn’t dare, since if they killed me then theoretically the draught might last forever. But today, I’d gathered together eight hundred and fifty false prophets on top of Mount Carmel, not to mention all the people of Israel as witnesses. I’d proven that the God of Israel was the one true God. Well, He proved it, with fire from heaven; I just cooperated, I guess. The Israelites were convinced. They cried out that He was the One True God—took them long enough to figure that out—and together they apprehended the false prophets. Then I slaughtered every last one of them with the sword in the Kishon Valley. 
 
Eight hundred and fifty men. I’d never killed anyone in my life before—but that was the penalty for being a false prophet in Israel, according to Deuteronomy. No one else was going to carry it out; Ahab was evil, and I was the only prophet of the Lord left. So it was all up to me. I wondered if I would ever purge those gory images from my imagination. 
 
That wasn’t even the end of the day. Ahab had stood as a witness to all of this, and then I’d prophesied the end of the draught. I wouldn’t have done this on my own, since I knew the draught was the only reason Ahab hadn’t attempted to kill me yet. But the Lord told me the draught needed to end, yet He was cooperating with my original word to Ahab that it would end only at my word. So, I did as I was told. Then I prayed seven times before I saw the manifestation of clouds in the heavens. Only then did I tell Ahab he’d better beat it to Jezreel lest the rain stop him—and I ran 17 miles ahead of his chariot, all the way here. I’d still been buzzing with the adrenaline of slaughtering a virtual army of false prophets, I supposed, and needed a way to burn it off. Neither of us arrived ahead of the rain, but I did get here before he did. 
 
But, there he is now. I looked up to see the drawbridge lower, admitting the king’s chariot to the interior of the fortress. The charioteer saw me and fixed me with a glare before they vanished from view. He would tell his master that he had seen me, surely. 
 
Why had I come to Jezreel exactly? This suddenly seemed like a terrible idea. 
 
The fortress was elevated over the valley so that the water ran down in rivulets, but I saw the water accumulating in every reservoir down below, soaking into the parched earth. A figure approached on the same road from which Ahab had just come, riding on the back of a donkey: my servant, whom I had left behind on Carmel. He had seen the direction in which I’d gone and rode after me. I raised my hand to wave at him, but was distracted by the approach of a third person. He was a servant of the king, dressed in the livery of the fortress. He approached me directly, knowing exactly where to find me from the charioteer, no doubt. He gave me a slight incline of his head, which was more acknowledgement than bow, and said, “From my Lady the Queen.” Then he handed me a very small scroll, and retreated back to the fortress again. 
 
I protected the scroll with one hand from the driving rain, and unrolled it with the other to read. It said, “Ahab has informed me of your violence against my prophets. So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 
 
The first thought I had upon reading this was not in words; it was the image of blood to my ankles from earlier that day, surrounded by slashed corpses. In my mind’s eye, the face of one of the corpses was mine. 
 
The draught is over, I thought, and my heart seized in fear. There’s nothing to stop her now! 
 
I don’t know why at the time, it didn’t occur to me that if she could have killed me, she would have sent a soldier with a sword, rather than a servant with a note. All of Israel had seen my triumph on Mount Carmel and were behind me now, at least for the time being—crowds, I knew, were fickle. Still, Jezebel couldn’t balk public opinion so soon afterwards and have me murdered without suffering for it herself. But I was not thinking clearly; all I could see was the vivid image of my bloody corpse. 
 
So I ran. I ran right past my servant, close enough to hear him say, “Aw, really? I just got here!” but too fast for him to catch up. 
 
I ran more than five times as far as I’d done earlier that day, because I just didn’t feel like I could get far enough away from Jezebel and her threat—or perhaps more accurately, from the picture in my mind. It was with me all the time.
 
It was the middle of the night when I arrived in Beersheba. The clop-clop of hooves behind me from my servant’s much-abused donkey presently approached when I stopped running. 
 
“Let’s find a place here for the night,” my servant said, sounding exhausted. And he’s just been riding the whole way, I thought. “Any of the men of Israel will be honored to offer hospitality to the great prophet Elijah!”
 
But I envisioned my host sending a message to Jezebel as I slept. “The one you seek is here.”
 
“No!” I said at once. “No, you stay here. I will go on.” 
    
“Master, you’ve run almost through the night! Will you run yet more?” 
    
I didn’t even bother to reply, so anxious was I to be gone from here. Gone from any prying eyes of the city, sheltered in the wilderness where no one would know to find me. 
 
I ran until I’d left the city of Beersheba. By then, my fatigue superseded my anxiety. I slowed to a walk, and went on like this until the sun rose, peaked, and set again. I hadn’t slept in two days, and I hadn’t seen another soul since Beersheba. At last, I sat down under a broom tree. 
 
“It is enough,” I whispered to the Lord. “Now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” I was just done. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t want to stand boldly alone before a murderous and adulterous generation, proclaiming and enforcing the word of the Lord. My fathers before me had done exactly that—and been killed for their pains. If they had been so treated, why would I be any different? Of course I was no better than they were. Why should the Lord protect me if he did not protect them? If I wielded the power, and could cow my enemies into submission, then sure—but the power was never mine to begin with. It was His, to use as He saw fit. Or not. 
 
I lay down beneath the tree, and closed my eyes, briefly aware that after two days of running in terror, I was famished. But I was equally exhausted. I slipped into unconsciousness.
 
A gentle hand shook my shoulder when the moon was high in the sky. I blinked up into a radiantly glowing face. 
 
“Arise and eat,” the angel said, gesturing just above my head. I followed his gesture, and saw a small arrangement of hot stones with a cake sizzling on top, and a jar of water beside them. My stomach rumbled at the sight of them. I sat up, ate and drank, and felt strangely satisfied for such a small meal. Then I lay down again, slipping back into sleep. 
 
When dawn broke, I was already almost conscious when I felt the hand on my shoulder again. I looked up again into the bright face of the angel, who gestured to the same spot and the same meal. “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you,” he said again. 
 
I did as he bid me, and then rose to my feet again. They throbbed in protest of their recent abuse, but I did feel new strength from the heavenly meal. Also, I had slept myself into some measure of purpose: I now knew where I was going, not just what I was running from. I traveled on for the next forty days, finding shelter each night where I could. I did not see the angel again, but I did not need to. Somehow those two cakes and jugs of water sustained me until I arrived at my destination: Mount Sinai, also called Mount Horeb. The Mount of God. The place where Moses had received the Ten Commandments. The place where He had beheld the face of the Lord. 
 
I can’t necessarily explain why I needed to be there, in that place. The Lord had spoken to me plenty of times before, and I did not need to be in any special location to hear Him. But I hadn’t heard from Him at all since Mount Carmel--if one counted fire from heaven at my request as a conversation. He’d surely sent the angel, but the angel had said nothing other than “arise and eat.” I needed Him to talk to me. I didn’t even care what He said, as long as it wasn’t yet another task to complete that would put my life on the line before my enemies. Though knowing Him, it might be. Still, I needed to be near Him. 
 
When I at last arrived at Mount Sinai, it was nighttime. I took refuge in a cave a little way up the mountain, and lay down for the night. But before I could drift off to sleep, at last I heard the word of the Lord again.
 
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” 
 
A lump sprang to my throat. I didn’t think or censor my words; I just spewed forth what I felt. “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away!” I was breathing hard when I finished this outburst. 
 
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” 
 
So I did. I arose and wrapped my cloak around my shoulders against the chill of the night, venturing out of the cave and on to the face of the mountain. Once I was no longer sheltered by the  cave, a violent wind whipped my cloak almost out of my hands. On instinct, I leaned toward the mountain to grasp on to the boulders as I could, but the wind was so strong that even chunks of the boulders dislodged and flew out into the whirling night. Terrified, I dropped to a crouch, raising my arms over my head to protect it from falling boulders. 
 
Abruptly the wind stopped. But then the ground beneath me began to tremble and crack. I thought the mountain would shake me right off its face, and send me hurtling to my death down below—or else the earth might split and swallow me whole. 
 
Then the earthquake stopped, as lightning fell from the sky. At once, it seemed as if the vegetation on the entire mountain was ablaze—all around me, right next to me. In a second I would be consumed. I got to my feet and ran back to the cave. There, at least, there was nothing to burn. 
 
The fire vanished as quickly as it had come. All was still. I trembled from head to foot, too terrified to think, let alone move. It was as if the Lord used demonstrations of His power to shake me out of my tantrum, to get my attention. 
 
Well. He had it.
 
But then I heard the sound of a low, gentle whisper. It was like the sound of a parent calming a fussy child. My galloping heartbeat slowed, and I felt compelled to venture out of the cave. I wanted to see the Lord face to face, so very much—but I feared that for a sinful man to behold such holiness would mean instant death. So I wrapped my cloak around my head, and groped my way back to the entrance to the cave. The voice that came next was right in front of me, and crystal clear despite the folds of fabric over my ears. 
 
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” 
 
It was the same question as before, so the same answer overflowed from my bitter, exhausted heart. It should have occurred to me that the Lord asked me the same question because I gave the wrong answer the first time, but alas, it did not. My words came muffled through the folds of my cloak. “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 
 
The Lord did not reply to my complaint, at least not at first. What He said was, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 
 
The first two commands, I must admit, washed over me and made very little impression. They involved yet more danger, one in the land of Israel’s enemies, and the other back in Israel, which was also currently a land of my personal enemies (or at least they were until Carmel, and likely would be again by the time I returned). But I perked up when the Lord commanded me to anoint my replacement. My replacement! He was letting me off the hook! Finally! A wave of relief and gratitude passed over me. 
 
And then—seven thousand? Vaguely I registered surprise at the number. I had known, intellectually, that my complaint that I was the only prophet of the Lord left was false, as Obadiah had told me he had hidden a hundred others in caves and fed them. I felt justified in my complaint nevertheless, because though those hundred might technically exist, they were in hiding. They were not out boldly proclaiming the word of the Lord as I was, and risking the sword, as I was. Still, I had thought at best, there were only those hundred others. But seven thousand? Wow. 
 
Not that it mattered. Only one thing mattered to me right now: I was free! 
 
I knew the moment the Lord departed from me, even though I could not see Him. I uncovered my face, walked back to the cave, and lay down, fast asleep within minutes. 
 
By the time I awoke, the sun was already high in the sky, indicating late morning. I set out on my way back, but I did not go to the wilderness of Damascus, as the Lord commanded. Nor did I anoint a new king in Ahab’s place in Israel. I went straight to where I knew I would find Elisha son of Shaphat. No need for me to anoint the two new kings; Elisha could do that, couldn’t he? Wasn’t that the whole point of a replacement?
 
I found Elisha in his fields, plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. He stood by the twelfth, so engaged in his work that he did not see me approach. As I did so, I unfastened my cloak from around my neck, a symbol of the mantle of my position. When I passed by him, I cast my cloak upon him and kept right on walking, not even slowing down. He would have questions, probably, but I didn’t care. The Lord wanted me to anoint him; the Lord could tell him whatever else he needed to know.
 
Elisha abandoned his oxen in the fields at once and ran after me, carrying my cloak with him. “Elijah!” he cried, knowing exactly who I was and what the cloak meant. “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you!” 
 
I glanced over my shoulder and shrugged. I’d slowed my pace, but even now I did not stop. “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” It didn’t matter to me whether Elisha accepted the job or not. I’d done what the Lord told me to do; now it was His problem. Still, it was a bit surprising that Elisha was so ready for this new calling. I’d expected a little more resistance than this, quite frankly. God had presumably been preparing him for his new role in advance. He probably has no idea what he's in for, either, I thought cynically.
 
Elisha slaughtered the oxen he’d been using to plow when I came upon him, and threw a great feast for his servants and family: a celebration of his new calling, and a symbol of the end of his old life. He begged me to remain for the feast, and I did so—after all, the last meal I’d eaten was the cake and water given me by the angel more than forty days before. Beef might not have been the best way to break a forty-day fast, but I didn’t care. I, too, felt like celebrating.
 
It was the best meal I ever had. It tasted like sweet, sweet freedom. 
May 15, 2020

Today's podcast comes from this blog post, Hydrogen Sulfide SIBO

May 8, 2020

This week's podcast is a meditation on and a retelling of 1 Kings 18. 

I read the text with some discussion first, and then read my retelling (below). 

I was still in the home of the widow of Zarephath and her son, who now adored me and followed me around like a shadow, when the word of the Lord came to me again. 
 
“Go,” He said, “show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth.” 
 
It had been three and a half years since I had originally prophesied the draught to Ahab. The famine had been severe even when I came to the widow two and a half years ago. People were dying of starvation. Still, I wasn’t thrilled about returning to Ahab, for I knew that as soon as the draught ended, he would try to kill me. Probably he would have done so already, had he been able to find me. 
 
I said my goodbyes to the widow and her son, and the little boy clung to me despite my prickly animal hair garments. I’d been his father figure for the last two and a half years, and I would never see them again, more than likely. A lump rose to my throat as I hugged him goodbye. I was less emotional than I might have been, though, had I not been so distracted by the prospect of what awaited me. 
 
One hundred miles I traversed from Zarephath back to Israel. This trip was less bitter than my original journey had been, because I carried water with me from the widow’s well. I also must have followed a slightly different path, because after I had reentered Israel’s borders, I came upon a spring of water in a valley. The jar I had brought with me from Phoenecia was long since dry, and I gratefully refilled it. 
 
When I straightened again, I saw a man I recognized from Ahab’s court coming toward me. He seemed hesitant at first, and then ran and fell on his face before me. 
 
“Is that you, my lord Elijah?” 
 
I knew him as Obadiah, who was in charge of Ahab’s household. Yet I also knew that he feared the Lord. He must have kept that from the king and queen, or he would surely be dead now. 
 
“It is I,” I replied. “Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’"
 
A shadow of terror passed over Obadiah’s face. “H-how have I sinned,” he replied, “that you would give your servant into the hand of Ahab, to kill me? As the Lord your God lives, there is no nation or kingdom where my lord has not sent to seek you. And when they would say, ‘He is not here,’ he would take an oath of the kingdom or nation, that they had not found you.” 
 
Huh, I thought. No wonder the Lord sent me all the way to Zarephath
 
Obadiah went on, "And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here.’ And as soon as I have gone from you, the Spirit of the Lord will carry you I know not where. And so, when I come and tell Ahab and he cannot find you, he will kill me, although I your servant have feared the Lord from my youth. Has it not been told my lord what I did when Jezebel killed the prophets of the Lord, how I hid a hundred men of the Lord’s prophets by fifties in a cave and fed them with bread and water?” 
 
I started at this—I had not known. I was impressed, too: for Obadiah to do such a thing right under Ahab’s nose! 
 
Obadiah finished, "And now you say, ‘Go, tell your lord, ‘Behold, Elijah is here,’ and he will kill me!”
 
I promised him, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, I will surely show myself to him today.” To emphasize my point, I sat down, indicating that I would wait right there. 
 
Obadiah grimaced. “As you say, my lord.” 
 
Obadiah must have believed me enough to tell Ahab where to find me, but not enough to return with him when he came. Presently, Ahab crested the hill alone before the valley where I sat. When he was still a long way off, he cried out to me, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?” 
 
I balked a little. I knew he blamed me, but really! I called back, “I have not troubled Israel, but you have, and your father’s house, because you have abandoned the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals!” He approached me, and I stood up to look him in the eye. “Now therefore send and gather all Israel to me at Mount Carmel, and the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
 
Ahab narrowed his eyes at me, understanding my implied challenge. Mount Carmel was where the altar of the Lord had been during the time of the Judges, before Jezebel’s prophets had thrown it down. He knew I meant for this to be a showdown. No doubt in his mind, it would end with my public execution. I suspected that was the reason for the malevolent glint in his eyes as he hissed, “Agreed. I shall assemble them all there at sunrise tomorrow. In the meantime,” he took a step closer, until we were nose to nose, “you will come with me. I’m not letting you out of my sight again.” 
 
I grinned back at him, lifting my chin a bit to show that he did not intimidate me in the least. “I am a man of my word, Ahab. I told you I would be there, and I will be there. But do not attempt to arrest me now. It’s just you and me here, and if it came to a struggle—we both know who would win.” 
 
Ahab blinked, gritted his teeth, and took a step back, fixing me with a gaze of purest hatred. My threat rang true: though Ahab and I were evenly matched in terms of size and strength, I had the Lord on my side, as the three and a half year draught clearly proved. The king was a coward at heart. I knew he would back down. 
 
“Sunrise," he snarled.
 
“Sunrise,” I agreed. 
 
Then he was gone. 
 
I climbed to the summit of Mount Carmel the next morning when streaks of pink stretched across the morning sky, and found that I was almost the last to arrive. Hundreds, if not thousands of Israelites had camped out on Ahab’s orders--awaiting my bloodshed, probably. Obadiah was there among Ahab’s servants. He caught my eye and gave me the tiniest nod of encouragement. My servant was already on top of Carmel as well, waiting for me. Behind the prophets, I saw that some of Ahab’s servants had brought animals for sacrifice. Good. 
 
The dull roar of chatter died down as soon as I made my appearance. “How long will you go limping between two different opinions?” I cried out to the people. “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” I stopped, waiting for a reply. They gave none, but hung on my every word. “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men,” I went on. I knew this wasn’t strictly true because of what Obadiah had told me, but it still was, for practical purposes. I was the only prophet no longer in hiding. “Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the Lord, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” 
 
I didn’t know whether or not the people would understand my reference. As it was written in the Chronicles, when Solomon built and consecrated the Temple, the Lord answered with fire from heaven, consuming the sacrifices. Whether they caught the reference or not, though, a murmuring ripple passed through the crowd.
 
“That sounds fair,” I heard several of the braver voices say, and, “It is well spoken.” 
 
I turned to the prophets next, and cried out, still in my stage voice, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” 
 
One of Ahab’s servants came forward with the largest and finest bull they had brought, and the crowd of prophets swarmed around it. The bellows of the bull abruptly ceased, and many of the prophets took part in preparing its remains for the sacrifice. They laid it upon the wood on their altar, and formed a ring around it. The people hushed, and then the prophets raised their voices as one. 
 
“O Baal, answer us!” they cried out. “O Baal, burn up this offering we have prepared for you! O Baal, answer with fire!” 
 
The cacophony of supplications grew louder. They danced, they leapt, they raised their arms to heaven. But nothing happened. Hours passed. Their shouts grew hoarse. Their dancing turned to limping. The people grew restless. Many of them stopped watching altogether, unpacking the food they had brought with them and chatting amongst themselves. I smirked.
 
“Cry aloud,” I taunted the false prophets, “for he is a god. Either he is musing, or perhaps he is relieving himself! Or he is on a journey. Or perhaps he is asleep, and must be awakened!” 
 
The prophets cried out all the more at this, unsheathing their swords and lances and drawing their own blood, as was their custom. When there was still no reply, they cut themselves all the more, until they were too weak to dance or shout, covered in their own blood. 
 
Enough of this, I thought, getting to my feet. I grew bored myself, and I’d made my point. It was clear nothing was going to happen, and most of the people had now finished their lunch. 
 
“Come near to me,” I called out to the people of Israel, who had scattered. “Gather around.” I waited until they had obeyed, though most of them still looked as if they didn’t expect much. With my servant’s help, I began to repair the twelve stones of the altar of the Lord from antiquity. A few of the men of Israel, when they saw what I was doing, reluctantly moved to help me. When we had finished, I dug a deep trench all around the altar. The men who had been helping me looked at me quizzically, but I did not bother to explain. Two of them took over. 
 
“Deeper,” I commanded when they looked to me for direction. I, meanwhile, assembled the wood, and slaughtered the bull given me for my sacrifice. 
 
“Is this deep enough?” one of the men digging the trench asked me. It was about enough for one seah of seed. I shook my head.
 
“Double it,” I commanded. The three men exchanged a look, but did not argue and set again to work. 
 
Meanwhile, my servant and I cut the bull’s carcass in pieces, laying it upon the wood. When the men had finished digging, next I commanded them, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” I glanced at Ahab when I said this, whose expression deepened into a scowl. Water was a precious commodity these days. I didn’t care. The men did what I asked, filling jars down at the Kishon Brook at the base of the mountain and returning again to douse the offering. Then I commanded, “Do it a second time.” They hesitated slightly, glancing at each other and at Ahab, whose arms were crossed tightly across his chest with disapproval. But he did not contradict me, so they obeyed. “Do it a third time,” I told them when they’d finished. 
 
I had everyone’s attention now. With the third drenching, the people now understood the purpose of my trench: the water saturated the offering, the wood, the altar, and filled up the trench too. It was yet another taunt against the false prophets, without words. Doesn’t matter how hard you make this, it told them. The Lord can handle it. I glanced at Obadiah, whose lips twitched, trying not to smile at my audacity. 
 
My heart pounded in my chest with anticipation. I was not afraid, though; I knew full well that the Lord was about to do something spectacular. I raised my hands to the sky. “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,” I declared in a booming voice, “let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back!” 
 
The answering bolt of lightning seemed to rent the heavens in two. I was momentarily both blind and deaf with the sound and the flash of it. When the dust cleared, there was nothing left at all: the offering, wood, stones, water, and indeed a huge chunk of the ground beneath the altar had been vaporized, leaving a crater behind. 
 
There was a moment of terrified silence, and then to a man, the people of Israel fell on their faces and cried out, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God!” 
 
I looked to the prophets of Baal. They were frozen, shaking in terror. I turned back to the people on their faces, and commanded, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape!” 
 
My words galvanized everyone at once. The prophets began to flee down the mountainside, while the people pursued them. I met them all down at the Kishon, and drew my sword. I had not known why I had brought it, until this moment. The Lord had commanded the death of the false prophets in Deuteronomy, lest his people be led astray by them. And who was there now to carry out the word of the Lord but me?
 
So, at the Kishon Brook, I slaughtered every last one of them. The men of Israel apprehended the prophets, each of them awaiting my sword of vengeance. 
 
I cannot explain how I did it. I’d never killed anyone before, yet suddenly I killed eight hundred and fifty men in a single day. A part of me was utterly horrified even as it was happening. Ahab watched, but did not intervene—not that he could have, if he’d wanted to. The hearts of the people were with me now. 
 
When I’d finished, I was as soaked in blood as if I’d bathed in it. I turned to Ahab, who seemed transfixed in utter disbelief. I stalked toward him, trembling all over with left over adrenaline, and pointed at his carriage. Then I declared, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” 
 
The sky was blue and cloudless, but Ahab’s eyes widened. He had not eaten throughout the ordeal, though I did not doubt that he had brought a feast with him from the fortress. Without a word, he moved toward his carriage with his servants—including Obadiah, I noted. He tried to catch my eye, but I turned away.  
 
I threaded my way through the crowd of amazed onlookers, and gestured to my servant to follow me. Together, we climbed back to the top of Mount Carmel, and the men of Israel, their wives and children, dispersed to their homes. 
 
When I reached the summit, I sat down beside the crater that had once been the altar of the Lord, and put my face between my knees. I did not want to look at the sky, to behold its cloudlessness. I needed to see with my spirit, rather than with my eyes. My servant said nothing, probably too shellshocked at everything we had witnessed that day to question my strange behavior. 
 
With my head hidden and my voice muffled, I told my servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea. Then return and tell me what you see.” He went, and as he was gone, I prayed, Lord, bring rain. You commanded me to bring rain. Fulfill your word now
 
I heard my servant’s footsteps return. “There is nothing,” he declared. 
 
“Go again,” I told him. Again, the footsteps receded, and I prayed,  Lord, bring rain. Fulfill your word
 
Seven times we did this. Never once did I look up to the sky. The seventh time, the servant returned, and told me, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” 
 
I lifted my head from between my knees, and smiled. Then I pointed at the base of the mountain where Ahab still feasted with his servants. “Go, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot an go down, lest the rain stop you.’”
 
My servant did as he was told. As he went, I watched as the heavens grew black with clouds. The wind kicked up, and Ahab climbed into his chariot down below and made for Jezreel. I stood too, and began my descent from Carmel. As I did so, the first drops of water began to fall from the sky. 
 
As I drew level with my servant who waited for me at the foot of the mountain, something came over me—the hand of the Lord? The desire to burn off the excess buzz of energy from the day I’d just had? Regardless, I felt the sudden need to run. I tucked my garment in my waistband, and flew like the wind just as the heavens opened and the downpour began. 
 
“Where are you—?” I heard my servant begin to ask, but the rest of his question was lost in the sound of rushing rain. Behind me, I thought I heard him swear in frustration.
 
Ahab had quite the head start, and he was in a chariot while I was on foot, yet I outstripped him in moments. Why was I running to Jezreel, anyway? I had no idea. But where else would I go? I had only just come from Zarephath, in Phoenicia, and I was now essentially homeless. The Lord had not yet told me where to go next, nor what to do. 
 
For now, though, I was fully in the moment. My muscles burned with the joy of exertion, and the water washed away the blood of the false prophets, making me clean again. It was the most glorious bath I’d ever had.
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