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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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Now displaying: Category: meditation
Sep 17, 2021

Today's podcast is a meditation on the story of the Israelites' first attempt to take the Promised land from Numbers 13-14, when they finally went in and did it from Joshua 1-6, when Caleb took the mountain in Joshua 14, and the writer of Hebrews' reflection on what this means for us from Hebrews 4. 

Aug 6, 2021
Today's podcast is a retelling a meditation on Numbers 22-25:1-3, Numbers 31:16, 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 11, Revelation 2:14
 
Introduction
 
What an incredible illustration of the power of words! This Old Testament Seer, who was not even one of the Israelites, nevertheless was sought by princes and kings to bless and curse their enemies—and he was paid handsomely for it. Was there anything special about Balaam’s words versus anyone else’s? I don’t think so—stories of blessings and cursings abound in Genesis especially (consider the power of Isaac’s blessing stolen by Jacob to set
off a twenty year feud). Names also seemed to hold the power of prophecy (consider the power of Abraham’s and Sarah’s new names to foretell their destinies, and of Jacob’s “heel grabber” later turned to “Israel”). Solomon later had much to say about the power of words to shape a life (Proverbs 12:14, 13:2, 13:3, 14:3, 18:7, 18:20-21, 21:23). I suspect what made Balaam different from others was his faith in the power of his words to come to pass, whereas others might waver if the effects were not immediate. As Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” It’s the 'believing before you see it'
part that trips most people up. In this story, I imagined that Balaam didn’t struggle with this because he had a rare gift of seeing into the spiritual realm from time to time. If he could see the effects of his words before they were manifest into the physical, he’d certainly have had an easier time believing in their power. 
 
This is also an interesting story because Balaam wasn’t an Israelite, nor was his heart pure—yet still, God spoke to him. He had no covenant to cling to, but he clearly understood covenant, and he knew how to manipulate it to his own ends. The story in Numbers doesn’t actually show Balaam explaining to Balak how to get the Israelites to curse themselves; it cuts straight from Balaam’s oracles of blessing over the Israelites in Numbers 22-24, to the Israelites’ harlotry with the Moabite women and worship of Baal in Numbers 25. But we know that this was Balaam’s doing from Numbers 31:16, Jude 11, and Revelation 2:14. 2 Peter 2:15 reveals that Balaam’s motivation for this was financial gain. 
 
I used to think it was very strange that God gave Balaam permission to go with the Moabites and then sent an angel to kill him along the way because he went. That certainly seems contradictory. But God did tell Balaam no
the first time, which should have settled the matter. (Maybe there’s a lesson here: if God says no the first time, probably don’t keep asking?) The fact that Balaam asked again perhaps indicated that he was likely to do it regardless of what God said. Perhaps it wasn’t God’s best for Balaam to go, but He allowed it as a concession, knowing there was a potential danger in this loose cannon with impure motives. God’s concession, though, was for Balaam to wait until the men came to call him again in the morning; if they did, then he could go with them. There’s no indication that he did wait—Balaam just rose, saddled his donkey, and went. The fact that Balaam did not exactly follow the Lord’s instructions was a harbinger of what was to come. Balaam’s words had great power, and while God could use him to bless the Israelites, He could not afford to let this man say or do anything God did not explicitly authorize—hence the avenging angel.  
 
Once Balaam was sufficiently terrified into submission, God let him live and continue on his way. And indeed, he did bless Israel only... but he still wanted Balak’s money. So he found a loophole in God’s instructions, which he exploited to his own benefit.  
 
Fortunately for us today, we are now no longer under the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13-14), and we cannot curse ourselves with bad behavior as the Israelites could. Even so, we can still disqualify ourselves from receiving all the blessings God wants for us, if we do not mix His promises with faith (Hebrews 4:2).   
 
Fictionalized Retelling
 
I am what my people of Amau call a Seer. Most people perceive with their physical senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. So I suppose I must have been born with a gift, though I’ve never known anything different. I am as aware of the spiritual world as I am of the physical, though I cannot always perceive it with my eyes. Because of this, I learned from childhood that the spirit realm affects the physical—that in fact, it is the greater reality of the two. And yet, I could affect the spirit realm by my words. My words influenced the unseen, and then the unseen influenced and changed what was seen. 
There were some limits to this, though. The primary limit was that there was a Power in the unseen realm much greater than I. I knew a few details about Him: that He is One, not many, like so many other cultures seemed to believe. That He is righteous, balancing mercy with justice. He does not let the wicked go unpunished. This instilled in me a healthy fear of Him: I did not want to end up on the wrong side of that equation. I also understood that while my words had power to influence the physical realm through the spiritual, He did not always authorize me to use them. I wasn’t totally sure what might happen if I tried to speak that which He explicitly forbade, but I did not wish to find out. 
By rumor, as I grew, I also learned that He had favorites. In fact, He had one favorite people group in particular: the people of Israel. All the surrounding nations heard the stories of how the Lord delivered this band of former slaves from their captives in Egypt, and led them across the Red Sea. They had even plundered their former masters before they went. I heard how they had driven back the Amalekites, and defeated the Amorites. Now they were camped in the plains of Moab, on the other side of the Jordan from Jericho. I dwelt near the Euphrates with my own people, but even we felt the tension in the air. 
So when the messengers from Balak, king of Moab came to me, I knew why they had come before they spoke. But a young man I recognized from the king’s court drew near and bowed low before me. 
“I have come to you in the name of King Balak of Moab. Thus says the king to my lord, Balaam the Diviner: A people went out from Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they dwell next to me. And now, please come curse this people for me because they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I will prevail, and we will defeat them, and I will drive them out of the land because I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
I glanced behind the messenger who had spoken, to another who held a small leather pouch in his hand, which jingled just a little as he moved. A little shiver of anticipation ran down my spine. If that pouch was filled with gold pieces, it represented a fortune! Little wonder: Moab was surely sick with dread of the Israelites. They knew that the Israelites’ strength came from the spirit realm, and that was the realm of my influence. No fee would be too high. I resisted the urge to ask to see the coins right then. 
“Lodge here tonight,” I told them, “and I will bring you word again, as the Lord will speak to me.”
They did as I asked, and I withdrew at sunset to inquire of the Lord. 
It usually took longer for Him to respond to me, but that night, He spoke at once. Whether the words were aloud such that other human ears could have perceived it, I do not know, but to me, it was audible. 
“Who are these men with you?” He said. 
I was pretty sure He knew the answer; He was just starting the conversation. I told Him, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent word to me, saying, ‘A people went out of Egypt who covers the face of the earth. Now come, curse them for me. Perhaps I will be able to battle them and drive them out.’” Please, please, please… I thought, my imagination filled with what I could do with the gold in that pouch. What a great man that would make me!
The Lord said, “You will not go with them. You will not curse the people because they are blessed.”
I deflated. “But… God…” I bit my lip. “Surely there’s some minor curse I could pronounce against them?” 
He said nothing more. I knew from experience that this meant the conversation was over. My father used to do that when I was young: he’d lay down the law, and then give me the silent treatment as I wheedled, begged, and threw tantrums, until I finally accepted that he meant what he’d said. I sighed. 
In the morning I returned to the men of Moab, and told them with great reluctance, “Go to your land. The Lord refuses to let me to go with you.” 
The messengers exchanged a look of consternation with one another. 
“Are… you sure?” one ventured, holding up the pouch and deliberately jingling it before my eyes. “The king will pay you handsomely for this service of yours.” 
I let out an involuntary groan and averted my eyes from the pouch. “Would that it were up to me,” I told them. “But it is not.” 
At last they returned the way they had come. When they had gone, I looked up at the sky and shouted, “Why?” When He still gave me the silent treatment, I added, “What is so special about this people of Yours? What makes them any better than Moab, or the Amalekites, or the Amorites, or the Amauites for that matter? Why do You bless them, and You won’t bless me?” 
Silence again, though I felt His reproach. He had blessed me. I had a great gift that apparently was quite rare. I’d often wondered if there was anything special about my words, or if anybody else’s words might have the same effect as mine—it was just that, since I could see into the spirit realm where they had an effect, I did not waver once I’d spoken them, nor contradict them by speaking only what I saw already manifested in the physical realm, thus negating the effect in the spirit. Because of this ability, I was already prosperous: I’d used the words of my mouth to bless my own flocks and herds, crops and home, and I had quite literally eaten the fruit of my lips. If that weren’t enough, I used this same ability on behalf of others, and was paid handsomely for my troubles. I did not get my hands on that delicious little sack of gold, though… I whimpered at the thought, and huffed, crossing my arms over my chest and glaring at nothing in particular. 
“You’re unfair,” I accused the Lord. “You play favorites. That’s inherently unfair!” 
Silence still. I heaved another put-upon sigh, and went about my business for the day, saddling my donkey and taking her into the marketplace. 
Late that day, just before sunset, I saw a large company on the horizon riding to my home. As they drew near, I saw their splendor: these were princes and warriors of Moab, not the messengers I had seen the day before. My eyes widened and my heart pounded with anticipation. Balak was not giving up then! 
One of the princes dismounted and bowed down low before me. I pasted on a smile as I scrutinized his fine clothing, imagining what it might look like upon me. 
“My lord Balaam,” the prince said by way of greeting. I could get used to being called ‘my lord.’ He went on, “This is what Balak son of Zippor says: Do not let anything keep you from coming to me, because I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say. Come and put a curse on these people for me.”
An involuntary groan escaped my lips at this. How could I continue to refuse? But I managed, “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God. Now spend the night here so that I can find out what else the Lord will tell me.” 
The men agreed, and I withdrew from them and fell prostrate before the Lord. 
“‘I will reward you handsomely and do whatever you say’?” I quoted Balak to the Lord. “How can You expect me to refuse such an offer? I cannot! Let me go with them, I beg You!” 
There was silence at first. But then the Lord replied, “If the men come to call you, rise and go with them; but only say what I tell you to say.” 
“Ha ha!” I cried, triumphant. 
I could barely sleep that night. I rose at first light and saddled my donkey. My conscience pricked at me that the Lord had told me to wait for the princes to call me, but hadn’t they essentially already done that by coming the day before? I ignored this detail and went to rouse them. 
“The Lord gave me permission to go with you,” I told them breathlessly. “Take me to your king!” 
The princes seemed as glad to hear my response as I was glad to give it. They readied themselves quickly, and I mounted my donkey and followed them. 
At first we traveled in one company, but soon my donkey began acting strangely. She fell behind the others, and then even strayed from the path they were following, ignoring my tug upon her reins and venturing into one of the fields. 
“What are you doing?” I cried impatiently, tugging harder. She utterly ignored me, which both confused and infuriated me. I’d never seen her act like this before, and I needed to catch up to the others. From one of my saddlebags I dug out a switch, and used it to beat her flanks. She let out a sharp bray that made me wince. 
“Well, if you don’t want more of that, do what I tell you!” I retorted. 
At last, she returned to the road. I dug my heels into her flanks to try to get her to speed up to catch up with the company, but she refused—in fact, it felt like she was fighting me with every step. Presently the road narrowed, as a wall on either side delineated vineyards of different owners. Suddenly my donkey veered sharply toward one wall—but there was nowhere to go, so she just pressed against it and stopped altogether, crushing my foot against the wall in the process. I let out a roar and beat her harder. 
“What is wrong with you?” I shouted, gritting my teeth against her sharp bray of pain. “Come on!” 
She shuddered under me, and hesitatingly moved forward again, still hugging one wall but not so closely that she crushed my foot. Presently the lane narrowed so that she could no longer do even this: there was nowhere for her to turn aside. So she literally lay down under me, right there in the path.
“Why you worthless ass—!” I beat her as hard as I could, and she yelped and shuddered, but refused to budge. The third time I struck her, she half turned her head so that she could see me from one of her eyes. 
“What have I done to you to make you beat me these three times?” 
I blinked, and my hand froze in midair. I could see into the spirit realm from time to time, and I had spoken to God, but this was a new one. Still, the sensible thing to do would be to answer her. 
“Because you have made a fool of me! If only I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you right now!”
“Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?”
“No,” I had to admit. 
Suddenly I perceived that she and I were not alone. A brilliantly glowing man stood directly in front of the path, barring our way, sword drawn. My mouth dropped open, and I slid off of my donkey’s back and fell to the ground before him. 
“Why have you beaten your donkey these three times?” the angel demanded. “I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but I would have spared her.”
I caught my breath, as a wave of terror passed through me. “I have sinned,” I admitted. I meant in beating my donkey, but as I said it, I realized that I’d also sinned in not waiting for the men to call me in the morning, as the Lord had instructed. “I did not realize you were standing in the road to oppose me. Now if you are displeased, I will go back.”
The angel sheathed his sword, and stood to one side, making a very narrow path for us. “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.”
I swallowed hard, understanding the emphasis. I had not explicitly obeyed the Lord’s instructions before. I was given safe passage now only on condition that I do better in the future. 
My donkey got to her feet and picked up her pace to catch up with the company of princes. I was rattled, and she probably was too. She never spoke to me again. 
When I arrived in Moab, King Balak hurried out to meet me. 
“Did I not send you an urgent summons?” he scolded by way of greeting. “Why didn’t you come to me? Am I not able to reward you?”
I had best disabuse him of any false expectations he had now, I realized, not much caring to face the avenging angel again. 
“Well, I have come to you now,” I told him. “But I warn you, I can’t say whatever I please. I must speak only what God puts in my mouth.” 
Balak smirked. “I am sure God will see fit to allow you to speak whatever is in your own best interest.” 
Before I could protest again, he turned and said, “Come. We will sacrifice to your God to appease him.” He led the way, along with the company of princes he had sent to collect me, to a place called Kirjath Huzoth. There he offered oxen and sheep to the Lord, and he provided me and his princes with sheep to offer likewise. I considered telling him that if his intent was to ‘butter up’ the Lord to get Him to do what he wanted, that he was wasting his time. But Balak would learn that soon enough. 
The following morning, Balak beckoned me alone, and took me to the high places where their people sacrificed to Baal. I saw this, and knew what the Lord would think of it—there was no Baal, He was the only God, and this was precisely why He wasn’t likely to bless Moab—but I chose not to comment on it. There was no point; Balak wouldn’t listen, and that wasn’t why we were here. The king pointed down into the plains, and I blinked, taken aback by the sheer number of the Israelites. 
These are my enemies,” Balak told me unnecessarily. “Now, curse them for me!” 
I took a deep breath. Then I said, “Build seven altars for me here, and prepare for me here seven bulls and seven rams.” I was kind of stalling for time, and kind of doing the very thing I’d mentally mocked Balak for the day before: trying to butter God up. Seven was a special number to Him, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. It was a number of completion. I also knew, as every nation knew intuitively, that He required blood sacrifices. I again considered telling Balak to tear down the altars to Baal while we were at it, but dismissed this. I doubted he would take kindly to this suggestion. 
Balak had the animals I requested brought to us, and while he built the altars, I prepared the animals for slaughter. Then the two of us offered one bull and one ram on each of the altars, and set fire to them. Then I told the king, “Stand beside your burnt offering, and I will go; perhaps the Lord will come to meet me, and whatever He shows me I will tell you.”
I ventured alone to a desolate hill connected to the one on which we had built the altars, and prayed to the Lord. 
“Oh Lord, may it please you to curse the enemies of Balak!” 
The Lord’s reply, I knew, was not one that would please the king. When He had finished, He said, “Return to Balak, and tell him what I have said.” 
I trudged back to the king with a heavy heart, and to my dismay, I saw that in the interim, the princes of Moab had also joined him. I groaned inwardly, but when I was near enough, I called out, “Thus the Lord has bid me speak: From Aram Balak has brought me, Moab’s king from the mountains of the East, ‘Come curse Jacob for me, And come, denounce Israel!’ How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced? As I see him from the top of the rocks, And I look at him from the hills; Behold, a people who dwells apart, And will not be reckoned among the nations. Who can count the dust of Jacob, Or number the fourth part of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, And let my end be like his!” 
As I spoke, I had my back turned to Balak and his princes, but I could sense their gnashing of teeth. Sure enough, when I turned around, I saw Balak’s dark countenance. 
“What have you done to me?” he demanded. “I took you to curse my enemies, but you have actually blessed them!”
I felt miserable. But what could I do? I imagined the avenging angel, sword drawn, standing right beside me, ready to strike me down should I misspeak. “Must I not be careful to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?” 
The king huffed, and then turned and conferred with his noblemen. In the interim, I looked up to heaven and shook my head at the Lord in annoyance. 
“Will you let me say nothing that pleases him?” I complained.
Balak turned back to me, his expression smoothed as if with renewed determination. “Please come with me to another place from where you may see them, although you will only see the extreme end of them and will not see all of them; and curse them for me from there.”  
I felt my hopes rise too, irrational though I knew it was. After all, God had changed His mind from forbidding me to go with the men from Balak the second time I approached and asked Him, had He not? True, He’d given me permission and then sent an angel to slay me along the way, but I think that was due to a technicality… 
At any rate, I went with Balak and his men, across the ridges of the adjoining hills, across the field of Zophim to the top of Pisgah. There, Balak and some of the princes built seven more altars, and the remaining men went to retrieve seven more bulls and seven more rams. We again offered burnt sacrifices to the Lord, though I also noticed and ignored the altars to other gods nearby. Again I told Balak and the princes to stay by the offerings while I went to consult the Lord.
No sooner had I wandered ashrimp inway from the group, the Lord told me, “Go back to Balak, and thus you shall speak.” It was no better than before. Feeling a little sick to my stomach, I turned around and trudged back to them.
“So soon?” Balak asked eagerly, eyebrows raised. “Come now, what did He give you to say?” 
I sighed. “Thus says the Lord: Arise, O Balak, and hear; Give ear to me, O son of Zippor! God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it. He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; The Lord his God is with him, And the shout of a king is among them. God brings them out of Egypt, He is for them like the horns of the wild ox. For there is no omen against Jacob, Nor is there any divination against Israel; At the proper time it shall be said to Jacob And to Israel, what God has done! Behold, a people rises like a lioness, And as a lion it lifts itself; It will not lie down until it devours the prey, And drinks the blood of the slain.” 
I watched as the lines of Balak’s face deepened into a scowl as I spoke. I could hardly blame him. When I had finished, he shouted, “Do not curse them at all nor bless them at all!” 
I felt utterly wretched. “Did I not tell you, ‘Whatever the Lord speaks, that I must do’?”
Balak turned his back on me with a snort of disgust, and went to confer with his nobles once more. At this point, I just wanted the encounter to be over. 
He returned, his expression implacable. “Please come, I will take you to another place; perhaps it will be agreeable with God that you curse them for me from there.” 
Why he still thought location would make any difference at all, I did not know, but I went with him without comment. Balak and his nobles led me to the top of Peor, a mountain which overlooked a wasteland. As before, I instructed Balak, “Build seven altars for me here and prepare seven bulls and seven rams for me here.” The Moabites followed my instructions, and offered their sacrifices. 
Even so, I did not bother to withdraw to pray to the Lord this time and ask Him to let me curse the people of Israel. He would not. I could say only what He gave me to say. And yet… as I turned to look at the altars of Baal behind the altars the Moabites had just built to the Lord, the germ of an idea began in my mind. 
I turned my back upon them again for now, though, and turned to look out over the wilderness. I gave over my tongue to the Lord and uttered His prophecy as it came to me: “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened; The oracle of him who hears the words of God, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered, How fair are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens beside the river, Like aloes planted by the Lord, Like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from his buckets, And his seed will be by many waters, And his king shall be higher than Agag, And his kingdom shall be exalted. God brings him out of Egypt, He is for him like the horns of the wild ox. He will devour the nations who are his adversaries, And will crush their bones in pieces, And shatter them with his arrows. He crouches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him? Blessed is everyone who blesses you, And cursed is everyone who curses you.” 
Balak fairly shook with fury as he listened to this oracle. As if needing to lash out physically somehow, he clapped his hands together forcefully. Then he jabbed a finger in my direction and accused, “I called you to curse my enemies, but behold, you have persisted in blessing them these three times! Flee to your place now. I said I would honor you greatly, but the Lord has held you back from honor!” 
I shook my head. “Did I not tell your messengers whom you had sent to me, saying, ‘Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not do anything contrary to the command of the Lord, either good or bad, of my own accord. What the Lord speaks, that I will speak’? I will go back to my people; but come, and I will advise you what this people will do to your people in the days to come.” The germ of what I intended to do had grown in my mind, but I had decided that I would first stoke Balak’s fear of the Israelites before I gave him my recommendation. That way, he might yet be disposed to honor me, though I could not do what he had summoned me to do. 
I turned back out to the wilderness where we could see Moab in the distance, and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, And the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, The oracle of him who hears the words of God, And knows the knowledge of the Most High, Who sees the vision of the Almighty, Falling down, yet having his eyes uncovered. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth. Edom shall be a possession, Seir, its enemies, also will be a possession, While Israel performs valiantly. One from Jacob shall have dominion, And will destroy the remnant from the city.” Then I turned in the direction of Amalek, and pronounced, “Amalek was the first of the nations, But his end shall be destruction.” I turned in the direction of the Kenites, and declared, “Your dwelling place is enduring, And your nest is set in the cliff. Nevertheless Kain will be consumed; How long will Asshur keep you captive?” I opened my arms to encompass all these nations, and cried in a loud voice, “Alas, who can live except God has ordained it? But ships shall come from the coast of Kittim, And they shall afflict Asshur and will afflict Eber; So they also will come to destruction.”
I turned and beheld the stunned horror on the faces of Balak and all of his princes. I smiled. “Here is the end of the matter,” I said. “The Lord has blessed Israel; neither I nor you nor anyone on earth can curse those whom the Lord has blessed. But I will tell you what you can do instead.” I pointed at the altars of Baal. I saw confusion cross their faces as they turned to look where I pointed. “No one outside of Israel may curse them, but they can curse themselves.” 
King Balak whipped around to face me again, eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?” he demanded. “Why would they do such a thing?” 
“Simple,” I shrugged. “They are in covenant with the Lord, but it is not an unconditional covenant. If they violate their end of the agreement, they bring themselves out from under His protection. They will be as weak and susceptible as any other nation. In fact, the covenant itself enumerates the curses that will come upon them, should they cease to follow the Lord their God only.” 
Balak’s eyes widened, and his mouth fell open. He was practically salivating.
“What are these rules that they must keep?” he demanded. “And how can we entice the Israelites to break them?” 
“Your land is a land of beautiful women, is it not?” I asked casually. Balak and the princes nodded eagerly, and I went on, “And harlotry is included as one of the rituals of your worship to Baal, is it not?” 
“Yes!” Balak cried, the beginnings of understanding dawning on his face. 
I nodded. “Very good. The Israelites’ first two commandments given them by the prophet who led them out of Israel were these: ‘you shall have no other gods before Me,’ and ‘you shall not make for yourself a carved image; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.’” I left out the part I had heard about His blessings to the thousandth generation of those who love Him. “So you see? I do not believe you could directly entice them to sacrifice to Baal, unless you gave them an incentive. But if your beautiful Moabite women were to entice the Israelite men into sexual encounters, provided it is in the context of Baal worship…” I opened my hands with a casual flourish, and Balak and the princes now shared my smile. “The people will curse themselves.” 
Balak’s grin hardened into a snarl. I kept my hand open before him and let it hang there, until he finally glanced at it and took my meaning. He smirked, and gestured to one of the princes beside him, “Pay the man. He has given us what we wished, after all.” 
Jul 23, 2021

Today's meditation comes from Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13.

Introduction

For the first thirty years of Jesus’ life, He did nothing that the gospel writers saw fit to record, save for the one episode where He remained behind in the temple at twelve years of age, listening at the teachers’ feet and astounding them with His wisdom (Luke 2:41-52). He otherwise appeared to be a normal young man, until He was anointed by the Holy Spirit and received power from on high. This marked the beginning of His ministry. He had the power to do miracles at this point, but He had never yet performed one. Strangely, the first thing the Holy Spirit did was lead Him into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1). The Holy Spirit actually intended for the temptations to occur. Yet we know God never leads us into temptation (Matthew 6:13, James 1:13); Jesus was a special case, for this too. Why? 
In my retelling, Jesus recited to Himself the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness, believing that His own time in the wilderness was a parallel of theirs. They left Egypt (the life they knew), just as He left His old life of obscurity behind. They had never before known power, and then suddenly they were delivered with great signs and wonders. Then the Lord drove them into the wilderness, where they confronted daily needs, and with them, temptations to doubt the Lord’s goodness and provision. The story in the Old Testament does not record that it was Satan stirring up the people against the Lord, but then, the Old Testament had (almost) no doctrine of Satan. Presumably he was there, though, and the Israelites gave right in, every time. In order for Jesus to be our perfect sacrifice and substitute, He needed to be tempted in all ways as we were, and yet remain without sin (Hebrews 4:15). So the first temptation, according to both versions of this story in Matthew and Luke, was turning stone into bread. This parallels the temptations of the Israelites in the wilderness: much of their grumblings against the Lord had to do with lack of food and water. Notice that Satan waited to offer this temptation to Jesus until he’d been fasting for forty days, and was literally beginning to starve. Bread was not a luxury, but a legitimate need at this point. Yet would He trust in the Father to provide, or take matters into His own hands? If He did the latter, it would demonstrate potentially two things: lack of trust in God’s provision, and also doubt in His own identity. 
It’s interesting that Satan begins two of his temptations with “If You are the Son of God.” These would not have been temptations if Jesus had no inclination to doubt who He was. Yet after thirty years of doing nothing remarkable, how could He not? Giving in to this doubt would have been sin, though, as “whatever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23), and the root of all sin is unbelief (John 16:9). 
The order of the second and third temptations varies in the two accounts in Matthew and Luke, though the content was the same. According to 1 John 2:16, there are only three areas in which Satan tempts us: the “lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The temptation to turn stone to bread was lust of the flesh: putting the needs of His body above following God. He responded to this temptation by comparing God’s Word to bread: no doubt this was exactly what the original manna in the wilderness was meant to represent. 
Pride of life would have been showing off by jumping off the pinnacle of the Temple, just to prove to the Jews (and to Himself) that He had the power to call angels to His assistance. Satan even tried to twist scripture to convince Jesus to fall for this one, adding to and omitting portions of Psalm 91 to suit his purposes. Satan’s version of Psalm 91 made it sound as though God had promised carte blanche: complete protection under any and all circumstances. But Jesus understood that His power was not to be spent upon His own lusts (James 4:3)—and indeed, He did not benefit personally from any of the miracles He performed (unless you count taking His portion from the food He multiplied when feeding the 5000 and the 4000). Here too, Jesus responds to the temptation by quoting from Deuteronomy, as He does with all three. As Paul tells us, the Word is a sword, our only offensive weapon against the enemy (Ephesians 6:17).
The last temptation according to Matthew’s account was the lust of the eyes, as He beheld all the glittering kingdoms of the world. Luke’s gospel records Satan’s assertion, “this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish” (Luke 4:6). Notice that Jesus didn’t contradict this: the earth and all its kingdoms were Satan’s, and they both knew it. Jesus had come to earth, in part, to regain the authority that Adam had lost. Here, Satan offered it to Him freely. I doubt Satan realized that the alternative was the cross, since Paul tells us that if he had understood this, he would never have crucified Him (1 Corinthians 2:8). But Jesus knew it, which presumably made the offer all the more enticing. Yet even if Satan had kept his end of the bargain (which is doubtful), regaining authority for Himself only was never Jesus’ goal. He wanted us back, and there was only one way to get us. If Jesus had sinned, He could not have become the perfect Lamb of God, our substitutionary sacrifice. He could not have ushered in the New Covenant. 
 

Fictionalized Retelling (from Jesus' POV)

It was time. 
I had, from time to time over the last six months, lingered some distance away from the Jordan River as my cousin John baptized the hoards of Israel who came to him seeking repentance. I watched smiling, laughing, and sometimes weeping as the prodigals came home. 
“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few,” I murmured aloud on more than one occasion, bursting with pride in my cousin. But I had never revealed my presence to him over the past six months. His fame grew, though I remained in obscurity. 
Until now. 
My heart hammered in my chest in a blend of excitement and anticipation as I made my way right down to the banks of the Jordan this time. John was waist deep in the river, helping a middle aged man plunge beneath the waters and come back up again, his nose plugged and eyes closed while everyone around him cheered. Grinning, John released him. 
“Bear fruit worthy of repentance, friend!” John shouted after the man as he waded toward his friends, arms thrust into the air in victory and face streaming with water.
John turned to see who was next, and our eyes locked. His smile froze while mine widened. Understanding struck him. 
“Of course it’s you.” He was too far away and the rushing water was too loud for me to hear him, but I saw his lips form the words and his eyes fill with tears. Then he started laughing, even as the tears spilled over onto his cheeks. Answering tears pricked in my own eyes. I had always imagined this moment: how John would react when he realized that I was the Messiah. The reality was better. 
“Behold!” John bellowed to everyone around him, making a grand sweeping gesture to me with one hand as he wiped his cheeks with the other. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
My chest felt like it might burst with love for My cousin. I waded up to him as he spoke, positioning Myself to be baptized as the others before Me had done. His expression changed from awestruck to appalled, and he held up his hands in protest. 
“I need to be baptized by You,” he protested, “and are You coming to me?” 
“Let it be so now, for it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness,” I told him.
He shook his head, but in wonder, not refusal. I knelt down, plugged My nose, and closed My eyes, as My cousin took hold of my shoulders and lowered Me below the chilly rushing waters. He lifted Me out again, and I shook My hair and beard, water streaming from My face as I wiped it away. The sky above us was cloudless that day, but even so, it seemed to part like a pair of blue curtains. Beyond it, I saw the scene Ezekiel had described: a still sapphire sea, and a throne surrounded by an emerald rainbow. The One on the throne was all flame and rainbow, more glorious than the sun. 
“Father,” I whispered. It was the first time I had ever seen Him with My human eyes. 
He rose to His feet, and threw something in the air. As it descended through the parted sky, I could make out the form of a gleaming white dove. It landed on My shoulder.
“Holy Spirit!” I breathed, like embracing an old friend. He burned Me, but without pain, as Moses’ bush had burned without being consumed.
“This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!” My Father declared. 
With that, the sky rolled back across the heavenly scene like a scroll. The dove too had vanished, and the burning faded—but He was upon Me still, just like He had come upon the prophets of old in power. I knew He would be with Me from now on, until My mission here was complete. 
I turned to John, curious whether he had seen and heard what I had, or whether that had just been for Me. His awestruck expression, still turned toward the sky, told Me all I needed to know. Then he looked back at Me. 
“How long have You known?” he murmured. 
I smiled back at him. “As far back as I can remember.” 
“And yet You never told me!” It was an accusation, but then he held up a hand and said, “No no, I understand. It was better this way. I’d have asked far too many questions, though by all rights I should have guessed.” He shook his head and added to himself, “I must have been intentionally blinded until now; it’s the most obvious thing in the world—Jesus! where are You going?”  
I was wading back to the banks, and already the crowds had parted to make way for Me. I pointed up to the heavens. “The Spirit compels Me away from here just as surely as if He tugged Me by the hand. I must go.” 
“Where?” John called after me. “I’ll come with You!” 
“Into the wilderness, and I must go alone,” I called, giving him an apologetic glance. “You, meanwhile, still have work to do here.” I cast him one more grin, and made my way through the crowds gazing at Me with amazement on the banks, My robes streaming with water and gathering mud at the hems.
 
I walked out into the lonely places of Israel, as the chatter of the crowds grew distant behind Me. My clothing dried and stiffened with the sediment from the Jordan as the day progressed. Wild animals heard my footsteps and fled as I drew near. The Holy Spirit pulled me deeper and deeper into the wilderness. 
Yet there was another presence here too, besides Him and Me. I felt, though I did not see him yet. His hatred pulsed all around Me, like the heat radiating from the sun. It was almost tangible. 
I made camp that first night after the sun went down, and lay My head upon a flat stone for a pillow. I closed My eyes. It was then that I heard the first whispers. 
You imagined it all, Satan taunted. There was no open heaven, no Father, no Holy Spirit. You suffer from delusions of grandeur. What are You but a poor dead carpenter’s son?
I huffed and turned over. “It just happened today,” I said aloud. “At least have the decency to wait a few days before you try to make Me doubt it.” 
He fell silent for perhaps an hour. Then when I hovered in that space between sleep and waking, he whispered, You’re not the Messiah. You’ve never done any miracles in your life. John is greater than You are! 
I groaned, mostly annoyed to be disturbed out of slumber. Aloud, I countered in a voice thick with sleep, “Born in Bethlehem, of a virgin, from the tribe of Judah and of the line of David. I was called out of Egypt, while Herod massacred the children two and under at the time of my birth. My cousin, also born of a miracle, came in the spirit and power of Elijah and has been my forerunner for six months…” I kept quoting prophecies I had fulfilled already until I sensed that Satan had given up for the night. Then I breathed a sigh of relief, and drifted off at last.
Day and night, this cycle repeated—intensely for the first three days, when I was hungriest. By the third day, my hunger receded, and so did the whispers. After that, Satan’s daily temptations seemed almost halfhearted, and he gave up easily.
“Isn’t that just like you,” I panted to him aloud as I crested a hill with a large tree where I could rest in the shade. “Not one to waste your efforts in a battle you know you cannot win!” 
I knew I would not feel hunger again for the most part until I literally began to starve, which would happen around day forty. I did not know how long the Holy Spirit intended for me to spend out in the wilderness, though I guessed forty days and nights—that number recurred throughout scripture. The hardest battle would come near the end, when I was at my weakest, both physically and emotionally. 
Until then, I walked, I rested, and just when I could stand my thirst no more, I came across streams and springs where I slaked my parched tongue. I quoted the Pentateuch to Myself aloud. I sang the Psalms, inventing melodies for some of them that had never been set to music in My day. I talked to the Father and to the Holy Spirit, though I got no more audible or miraculous responses as I had in the Jordan. 
What are You doing out here? What is the point? Satan whispered several weeks in. 
“Symbolism,” I informed him, as much for My benefit as for his. “The Israelites left their old life in Egypt, were ‘baptized’ as they passed through the Red Sea, and entered the wilderness, where they learned trust and dependence upon God day by day, despite constant opportunities to doubt. Forty years for them; forty days for Me. Then they entered the Promised Land, through the Jordan at flood stage. Jordan means ‘destroyer,’ which symbolizes you, of course. The waters of the ‘destroyer’ parted and were cut off all the way back to the city called Adam. It was, for them, as if the fall had never happened, as long as they remained on the right side of the covenant. You had no power over them anymore. Only then did they began their work of taking territory and slaying giants. In the same way, after I defeat you in the wilderness, then My ministry will begin. Then I will take down your ‘giants’ of sickness, death, and disease, set the captives free, and proclaim the good news of the kingdom.” 
If this is Your wilderness experience like what the Israelites experienced, then where is your manna? Satan sneered. God fed the Israelites, but He’s happy to let You starve. You know why? You’re not really His son. He’ll let You die out here like the blasphemer You are.
I rolled My eyes at this attempt, though in truth, My stomach responded differently. It growled at the thought of manna. 
The awakened hunger persisted after that. At first upon is return, it gnawed here and there and then quieted for the rest of the day. It was worse on the days when I did not come upon a stream. A belly heavy with water could soothe the ravenous beast for awhile. 
By day forty, though, the hunger was constant and nearly unbearable. I hardly felt the Holy Spirit’s presence at all, but Satan’s whispers seemed always just behind Me. 
I squinted against the glare of the midday sun, not sure if My eyes were playing tricks on Me. But surely if I were to see a mirage, the shriveled, misshapen being before Me is not what I would have conjured. 
“Satan,” I greeted the creature. I had never seen him before with My human eyes, yet I recognized him at once. I looked him up and down, noting the leathery skin like that of a bat, the emaciated features, the beady flashing red eyes. “Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” I commented. My human eyes had never beheld him in his pre-fall glory either, but I knew the story from Isaiah. 
His lip curled at this, returning the inspection. “I could say the same of You, if You truly were who You claimed to be. But You and I both know You’re not. At least I once glowed brighter than the morning star. You, on the other hand…” he gave a wheezy laugh. “A delusional carpenter whom God will permit to die of starvation in the wilderness, whose carcass will be picked clean by the vultures.” 
“How well-named you are,” I retorted. Satan meant accuser. 
If You are the Son of God,” he returned, circling Me like one of the vultures he had referenced, “command that these stones become bread.” He gestured at a large boulder at my feet. 
Immediately My stomach gave a loud, painful growl. Unbidden, I saw the hot loaf in My mind’s eye, dripping with butter, sweetened with honey. My mouth flooded with saliva I could ill afford to spare: I was dehydrated enough. 
But I had not quoted the Pentateuch for forty days and nights for nothing. I knew the stories: God gave Moses the rod that he used in power to deliver the Israelites from every one of their challenges, and yet he was only to use it as God had prescribed. He could not bring water out of any rock, nor could he do it by any method he chose. When he forgot this, he had forfeited his own right to enter the Promised Land. In the same way, the power of the Holy Spirit was Mine, but I could not use it when and how I pleased—lest I forfeit My Promised Land. 
“It is written,” I panted back, swallowing back the saliva, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” Satan knew the reference as I did: it was from Deuteronomy. His beady eyes flashed, but he tried to control his expression. I should have felt a flash of triumph, but all I felt was hungry. 
Satan circled Me, and fastened his reptilian hands upon My wrists. In a whirl of wind and the blink of an eye, he spirited us together to the pinnacle of the temple of Jerusalem. My eyes widened and I took a step back from the ledge, as down below I saw the bustle of the crowd of worshippers, or priests bearing lambs or goats they had just bought and washed for sacrifice. They did not seem to see us—yet. 
“Prince of the power of the air,” I murmured to Myself, amazed. It was an impressive trick. 
He smirked at me, and gave an exaggerated little bow. Then his proud expression hardened and he took a step closer to me—too close. “If You are the Son of God,” he hissed, and gestured at the ledge casually, “throw Yourself down.” His words again conjured a clear picture in my mind: the gasps, the cheers, the crowds flocking to Me in amazement. What a spectacular way to announce My ministry! Satan shrugged and added, “For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
I gnashed My teeth together. That was a misquote of Psalm 91. Technically it was correct, but it was completely out of context. It angered Me how subtle his lies were, though less for Myself, and more for all those precious ones whom I knew he would lead astray with exactly this kind of deceit throughout the ages. I retorted, “It is also written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God!’” This was also from Deuteronomy. “Don’t play this game with Me, Satan. You think you know the word better than I do? I am the Word. You cannot win.” 
“Oh, can’t I?” he whispered back, clutching My wrists in his fists once again. I did not know where he planned to take Me now, but I knew he would choose a different tactic this time. He couldn’t make Me doubt My identity, so—
I caught My breath. We were at the top of a snow-capped mountain, well above the clouds, though I did not feel cold. This was a vision, I realized. I looked down, and all around me I saw—time. All of it. From the beginning to the end, every glittering kingdom of earth merged with one another, their rising and falling, their wealth and their greatness. But even more than this, I saw the people in those kingdoms: great and small, young and old, good and evil. My heart ached. They were why I had come. I longed for them, so desperately—My sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, all lost and hopeless and hurting without Me!
Satan leaned so close to My ear that I could feel his breath upon My neck. 
“All this authority I will give you, and their glory. It has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. If You will fall down and worship me, all will be Yours.” 
I whirled on him, horrified at the longing I felt. Adam gave the authority of all the earth to him, and he offered it back to Me now. It was precisely what I had come to reclaim, and he now offered Me a shortcut—without the sacrifice. 
Without the cross. 
“Away with you, Satan!” I snapped. “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve!’”
His expression sank into a deep scowl, and he bared his pointed yellowed teeth at Me. Then in a whirlwind, he was gone. I found Myself alone in the wilderness once again, on My hands and knees, panting. 
Then I felt a hand on My shoulder. I jerked back, expecting to see Satan once again, but I softened when I saw a beautiful face I somehow also recognized. 
“Gabriel?”
He smiled at me tenderly, and gestured behind him. There, I saw a cake sizzling upon a stone, and a jug of water. My stomach gave an answering, painful growl. I thought at once of the story of Elijah in the wilderness as he fled to Mount Sinai, and an angel met him along the way with just such refreshment as this. 
Gabriel hovered just behind me as I wolfed down the repast, closing My eyes in bliss as I savored the flavors. The cake was smaller than I would have liked, but I also knew better than to break such a long fast with a large meal. Nevertheless, had I had the option, it would have been hard to resist. 
When I had finished, I turned back to Gabriel. 
“I wonder that I have never met him before,” I said, meaning Satan. “But then, I’ve never drawn attention to Myself before.” 
The angel nodded, and pointed at the sky with a slight smirk. “That got his attention, I think.” 
I laughed, and then grew thoughtful. “Yes. But I needed it, too.” Of course, I literally needed the power of the Spirit to begin My ministry—but what I meant was that I had emotionally needed the open vision and the Father’s voice, too. After thirty years of obscurity, I had not doubted My identity per se, but the overt confirmation had certainly been a relief. Gabriel understood this.  
“That has always been the struggle,” Gabriel agreed. “Physical manifestations of power alert Satan to where the battle is.” Then he added, “He gave up for now, but he’ll be back, whenever he thinks You’re at Your most vulnerable. He’s like the Amalekites in that way.” 
I gave a short laugh, catching the reference to the tribe that had first attacked the Israelites in the wilderness by picking off the weak and stragglers among them. “Of course he is. The Amalekites got that strategy from him.” I sighed and mused to Myself, “I’ll have to be careful. Anything I say plainly or do in the natural realm is double-edged: he can see or hear it just as surely as those for whom it is intended. Which is why so many of the prophets spoke in mysteries and dark sayings.” 
Gabriel sank down to the ground beside Me, mimicking My posture with his arms around his knees. “He never understood any of the prophecies about You until it was too late,” the angel agreed. “Oh, he knew vaguely of course: Seed of Eve, line of Abraham, and that kind of thing—so he did his best to corrupt the earth, keep Abraham’s line barren until there were too many of them to bother with that strategy, and then kill or corrupt the Jews in general. But if he could have narrowed it down to Your exact line…” He shook his head. “Even at the time of Your birth, the best he could do was inspire Herod to kill all the babies two and under in Israel. He didn’t understand that—”
“‘Out of Egypt I have called My Son,’” I finished, quoting from Hosea. 
Gabriel nodded. “Right. He was looking for you in the wrong country. The truth was written in black and white—”
“But in a dark saying,” I agreed, and bit My lip. I thought of David’s seemingly superfluous musical gift of the harp, which turned out to be his ticket into Saul’s palace. I, likewise, had a gift for story telling. Now I understood why. I looked up at Gabriel. 
“I am to teach the people in parables,” I realized. “So that ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding’…” 
“Except for those whose hearts have been prepared to perceive and to understand,” Gabriel agreed. 
“By My cousin.” I gave a short laugh, and then sighed. “Even then, I’ll have to be careful what I say. He’ll be watching Me very closely from now on.” 
Gabriel stood and brushed himself off, which was also My cue that it was time to head back to Capernaum. 
“Yes,” he said, “I daresay Satan won’t take his eyes off of You for a second, from this moment on.” 
Jun 25, 2021

Today's podcast is a meditation on and retelling of John 2:1-11.

This retelling comes from Messiah: Biblical Retellings. The second book in this series is Daughters of Zion: Biblical Retellings

Introduction
    Why was this Jesus’ first public miracle?
    It’s clear he didn’t actually intend it to be. He tried to tell Mary no, and that his time had not yet come, but Mary insisted. Presumably these were close friends of hers, and she was embarrassed for the host that they had run out of wine. She also knew Jesus could help, which is remarkable in itself. Up until this point, Jesus had been baptized by John in power, but he had not yet done any miracles. Mary surely knew that he could do miracles as the Messiah, but it’s remarkable that she had the faith that he would, even after he told her no and he never had before. It was her faith that made this one happen: she actually ignored his ‘no’ and told the servants to go ahead and do whatever Jesus said to do. What must they have thought, when they knew they’d filled up the vessels with just water, and then brought them to the master of ceremonies to taste? Were they snickering amongst themselves? Were they wondering what they would say as explanation?
    After Jesus was baptized by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit, he had the powerto do miracles. Satan tempted him in the wilderness to do miraculous signs to prove who he was to himself, since he had never yet performed any miracles. Satan wanted Jesus to doubt his identity. So when Jesus was beginning to literally starve after 40 days with no food, and Satan tempted him to turn a stone into bread, a necessity for himself—and he resisted. Yet now, when Mary wants him to turn water into wine—a luxury for others, he does it. Not only does he do it, he makes up to 180 gallons of it! It takes 5 normal sized bottles of wine to make a gallon, so this is 900 bottles of apparently exquisite wine. No matter how big this wedding, that’s way more than they could ever drink, even with a marriage celebration that went on for days. He continues this theme of abundance throughout his ministry: in the feeding of both the 5000 and the 4000, there was far more left over than he started with. When Jesus told Peter and his partners to cast their nets on the other sides of the boat, there were so many fish that the boats began to sink. He is a God of more than enough.
    Moses’ first miracle under the Covenant of Law was to turn a rod into a serpent (a symbol of sin). Jesus’ first miracle as the bringer of the New Covenant of Grace is to produce an excess of wine (a symbol of joy) for a celebration. This reminds me of the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 16:9-15): in both cases, the people are to take a portion of what he has blessed them with and enjoy it themselves—all God asks is that they invite Him to the party. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).
 
Fictionalized Retelling: from Mary's POV
 
Deborah had been one of my dearest friends since the earliest days of my marriage to Joseph. She and her husband Zev had thought they were barren for many years, before the birth of their daughter Yasmin. Later they had two boys too, but Yasmin was the princess of the family. I watched her grow up with my own children, and loved her like one of my own. When Joseph passed away, her family and ours grew even closer. Zev cared for me like I was one of his own sisters, though my sons were old enough to take care of me then.
    Alas for Yasmin, though, her parents were too poor for much of a dowry, and she was never a beauty. When she reached eighteen with no marriage prospects, Deborah privately cried with me that perhaps Yasmin would never marry. What would she do in her old age, once her parents were not around to provide for her anymore?
    “Her brothers will no doubt provide for her,” I soothed my friend, though inwardly my heart broke for Yasmin, too. Yasmin did not let on, but I knew how it must hurt her not to be chosen, and how she must fear growing old without a family of her own.
    So when she met Tobias, a poor merchant’s son who seemed to see in her what all of us saw, we held our breaths… until the day finally came, when Tobias approached Zev for the Shiddukin, or commitment. When Zev asked Yasmin privately if she would consent to become Tobias’s wife, Deborah told me that Yasmin had burst into happy tears on the spot, choking out her yes with so much emotion that they could hardly understand her.
    I had been present for Yasmin’s Erusin, or betrothal ceremony to Tobias. I thought my face might split, I was grinning so hard as she and Tobias traded the wine goblet under the huppah. Betrothals typically lasted a year, and Tobias would need that long to prepare a place for his bride. From nine months after that day on, Yasmin kept her oil lamps burning in the house twenty-four seven, in case Tobias sounded the shofar and led the bridal procession to collect her in the night. I knew that Deborah and Zev privately fretted about this, since they could not really afford that much oil. But they dared not deny their girl this little luxury, after all she had suffered.
    The oil became a problem when nine months turned into a year, and twelve months became fifteen. Zev finally told Yasmin they could not afford to continue burning the oil lamps. Deborah told me of the tears that followed, and I understood why. Yasmin was not crying because she was denied the oil for the lamps. The oil lamps symbolized her hope that Tobias would ever return, and her hope was dwindling. Had he changed his mind? Would he return at all?
    So when the shofar sounded in the streets of Cana after a seventeen month betrothal, the entire town turned up to celebrate the Nissuin. We all loved Yasmin, Deborah, and Zev. I was relieved that Jesus had just returned home in time, as well: he had been baptized in the river Jordan and then went off into the wilderness for forty days, though I did not know how long he would be gone. He had made it clear to me that he would not necessarily share with me all the details of where and when he would be going from this point forward. I understood the significance of what he was saying. Since his very unusual birth, I had anticipated the day he would step into his role as the Messiah. I wanted to ask him what had happened in the wilderness, but he happened to arrive on day three of the Nissuin, at which point there was such hubbub and commotion that I could hardly ask him anything. He also arrived with a group of several men I had never seen before, orienting themselves around him like disciples. I beamed at my son and waved at him across the way when Deborah intercepted me, all aflutter.
    My face fell as I focused on my friend, and for one wild second, I thought, what crisis now?
    “We are out of wine!” she gasped. “It’s only the third day, and we are out of wine!”
    I understood what she meant immediately. It was considered shameful to run out of wine at all, let alone on day three. Although wedding guests typically helped to pay for the seven day wedding feast of Nissuin, none of our friends were wealthy people. There was no one to whom they could appeal for help.
    “This is because of the excess of oil burning all those months?” I guessed, and Deborah gave me a tearful nod.
    I bit my lip, and looked back at Jesus, then at Deborah again.
    “Leave it to me,” I whispered with determination, and crossed the room.
    I grinned and hugged my son, but when I got close enough to his ear I whispered pointedly, “They have no more wine.”
    When Jesus released me, I saw that he scrutinized my face with a slight frown. “What does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
    I narrowed my eyes at him. “I know about the dove from heaven,” I whispered back, referencing the rumors I had heard about the voice that had declared Jesus’ identity when John baptized him in the river. “You’ve stepped into your ministry now. You even have disciples. If Elijah and Elisha could both multiply oil and flour, I know you can do this! Besides, it’s Yasmin!” I insisted. “She’s practically your sister…”
    I saw that Jesus was about to protest again, so I turned away before I could hear it, gesturing at the servants nearby. I pointed them to Jesus.
    “Whatever he says to you, do it,” I instructed them, turning back to Jesus. I might have worn a slightly triumphant expression. He returned a mock glare, but the corners of his mouth turned upward. I knew I’d won.
    With a slight sigh, Jesus turned to the servants and pointed at six enormous empty waterpots used for ritual purification. “Go and fill the waterpots with water,” he instructed.
    I saw the servants frown at each other skeptically, but I reminded them, “Do it!”
    They shrugged, and went to do as they were told. It took two men to carry each filled pot back to Jesus, since they held about thirty gallons each, sloshing water over the edges as they carried them.
    When they returned, Jesus nodded at them and said, “Draw some out now, and take it to the master of the feast.”
    The servants at first did nothing. One finally echoed, “Take him some… water.”
    Jesus returned the look I knew so well: that unblinking quiet confidence that said he meant just what he said, and wasn’t going to change his mind.
    The servant shrugged and said, “Well, okay then…” and dipped a goblet into the water. Then he looked down into the goblet and started. He looked back up at Jesus, then down at the goblet, then up at Jesus again. Jesus’ expression had not changed, though there might have been just a twinge more amusement.
    I smiled at Jesus with gratitude, but hurried after the two servants. They brought the goblet to Tobias’s father Uri, acting master of the feast. Uri was tipsy already, and gave a loud and cheerful “Hey!” when he saw that the servants had brought him another goblet of wine. He raised it to his lips, though his attention was elsewhere. All three of us watching eagerly for his reaction. He raised his eyebrows, lifted the goblet to his nose, sniffed it, and swirled it before bringing it to his lips again. Then he looked first to the servants, then to Deborah in amazement. He beckoned his son to him across the room, and Tobias came trotting over.
    “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” he cried out, clapping the boy on his back and drinking a long draught from the goblet. “Well done!”
    Tobias turned to us, looking confused. I giggled, and gestured to the servant.
    “Bring the bridegroom a goblet too!” I told them. “Bring me one as well!”
    They did so, whispering excitedly among themselves. Many of the guests turned to Jesus after they had no doubt heard the story, with expressions ranging from skepticism to amazement. Tobias shared his goblet with Yasmin, who went to Jesus to thank him. In minutes, the story had traversed the room, and the people swarmed Jesus, wanting to know if it was true. I could just see him through the crowd that now surrounded him, and I raised my goblet in the air to him in a silent toast.
    “To my son,” I whispered to myself. “The Messiah.”
May 28, 2021

Today's meditation is on Luke 18:1-8, the Parable of the Unjust Judge (or the parable of the persistent widow)

May 14, 2021

Today's podcast is a meditation on 1 John 5:14-15: "And this is the confidence we have in Him: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, in whatever we ask, we know that we already possess what we asked of Him."

Apr 16, 2021

Today we're meditating on the relationship between forgiveness and justice. 

Verses: 

  • Matthew 6:14-15
  • Genesis 37-50
  • Colossians 3:13
  • Psalm 37, 103:6, 59:10
  • 2 Thess 1:6-7
  • Heb 10:30-31
  • Isaiah 30:18, 35:4, 49:25, 54:15-17
  • Luke 18:7-8
  • Prov 20:22
  • Romans 12:19-21
Apr 2, 2021
Today's podcast is a meditation on and retelling of Genesis 22:1-19. 
 
Intro: 
This always seemed like a very strange story to me. God said in Jeremiah that child sacrifices never even entered His mind (Jeremiah 19:5), and it’s certainly inconsistent with His character as depicted everywhere else in scripture. True, God did not intend Abraham to actually go through with it, but Abraham didn’t know that. Why test Abraham in such a seemingly cruel way? I don’t fully understand the answer, but I do suspect it involves two things: the Old Testament concept of covenant involving a reciprocal exchange, and the type and shadow of God’s future sacrifice of His own son. 
The parallels between Jesus’ sacrifice and this one are many. God told Abraham to perform this sacrifice on the mountain of Moriah. David later offered sacrifice there too (2 Samuel 24:17-19) and then Solomon built the Temple on that very spot, making the rock at the top the Holy of Holies (2 Chronicles 3:1). Today, this is the hotly contested spot sacred to both the Arabs and the Israelites, currently the site of the Dome of the Rock. Isaac was therefore a type of the sacrifice for sin which would later be offered in that very place for the sins of Israel, ultimately fulfilled for all time in Jesus. 
We know that Isaac was less than thirty-seven years old at this time, since Sarah died when she was one hundred and twenty-seven years old, making Isaac thirty-seven at the time (Genesis 23:1). Because of the parallels with Jesus, some scholars believe he was thirty-three when this occurred, as Jesus was at the time of His death. 
Just as God willingly sacrificed His beloved, long-awaited, only Son, born of a miracle, destined to bless the whole world, so Abraham willingly offered Isaac: beloved, long-awaited “only son” of the promise (22:2), born of a miracle, through whom all the nations of the world were to be blessed (22:18). 
Just as Jesus carried the cross he was to die on, so Isaac carried the wood he was to die on (Genesis 22:6).
When Isaac (by now surely beginning to suspect) asked Abraham where the sacrifice was,  Abraham’s answer was prophetic, whether Abraham realized it or not. He didn’t say, “God will provide the lamb;” he said, “God will provide Himself a lamb” (22:8). Did he understand that this was a prophetic pre-enactment? We know that Abraham did not believe that Isaac would die and stay dead; he either expected God to provide an alternative sacrifice all along, as this statement suggests, or he believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead if need be (Hebrews 11:17-19). Either way, he told the servants, “we will come back to you” (22:5). Not I will come back. Like Jesus was able to endure the cross because He looked past it, to the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2), so Abraham saw past the moment of sacrifice to the moment of God’s redemption, though he did not know in advance what form it would take. 
Considering Abraham was one hundred years older than Isaac, there is no way he could have overpowered Isaac in order to sacrifice him. Isaac must have been a willing participant, laying down his life as Jesus did (Titus 2:14). Like Jesus, there is no record that Isaac said anything at all when he was led to slaughter (Genesis 22:9, Isaiah 53:7, Matthew 27:14).
So this sacrifice was clearly a type and shadow, one of many in the Old Testament. God also told Hosea to marry a prostitute as a type of His own marriage to unfaithful Israel (Hosea 1), and told Ezekiel to lay on his side for a year as a symbol of Jerusalem’s upcoming siege (Ezekiel 4). Isaiah walked around naked and barefoot for three years to symbolize the coming judgment against Egypt and Cush (Isaiah 20:3). I’m sure these things got people’s attention, but still—why? 
The best answer I’ve heard comes from Charles Capps, though I still feel it's incomplete. Old Testament covenants always symbolized an exchange: the two parties shared both assets and liabilities in common, and the terms of the covenant were like a legal agreement today, outlining what each party must do in order to fulfill his end. The exchange of blood and of names served as symbols for the seriousness of the agreement, and of two identities merging into one. But Abraham (then Abram) was asleep when God cut the covenant with him (Genesis 15)—he thus did not participate as one of the two parties. God later gave Abraham the sign of the covenant, circumcision—but still, Abraham had not really done anything to validate his side of the agreement. Given the heavenly courtroom drama we saw from the book of Job, is it possible that God needed Abraham, our covenant head, to demonstrate his willingness to offer up his only son, so that God could “legally” offer His son on our behalf? If Abraham had not been willing, would he have failed to ratify the covenant of faith, giving Satan a legal loophole to contest the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf? 
 
Retelling
Years passed, and Isaac grew into manhood. He was our pride and joy, and everything Sarah and I could possibly have wished for in a son: obedient, dutiful, handsome, and so very patient. I often marveled at how mild he was, particularly given his mother’s fiery temper. He was the best of both of us, with his mother’s good looks and common sense, and my quiet trust and confidence in the Lord. 
Yet while Isaac seemed content to live his life moment by moment, never fretting about what was to come, Sarah agonized over where to find him a wife. 
“He’s already over thirty years old!” she insisted one evening when we were alone. “We should send a servant now!” 
“The Lord has not told me to do that,” I reminded her, “and yes, I’ve asked Him about it, and I’ve continued to ask Him. He will tell me when the time is right. Isaac is the promised child, Sarah. Obviously he will have to marry.” 
When?” Sarah demanded. “I’m over one hundred and twenty years old, Abraham, Father of Nations! I’d like to live to see my grandchildren!” 
What she did not say was that Hagar, her longtime rival, already enjoyed five grandsons through Ishmael, and three granddaughters as well. Sarah’s animosity for her former maid had simmered after Isaac’s birth, but had reignited once Ishmael had married and his wife began to bear children. 
“Patience, my love,” I murmured, kissing the top of her head. She huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “He will marry. He will have children. Our descendants will be as the grains of sand and the stars in the sky, remember? Surely you cannot doubt that now.”  
She sniffled. At long last she grumbled, “I don’t doubt it, I’m just sick of waiting. I don’t see why you can’t just send a servant back to Ur. Why do you have to wait for the Lord to tell you to do it? Isn’t it obvious that’s what has to be done?”
I raised my eyebrows at her. “Really?” I let my question hang in the air between us. She knew exactly what I meant: the last time she had tried to help God out, Hagar had borne Ishmael, and Sarah herself had gained a lifelong enemy.  
She sighed. “All right fine, but—will you please at least ask Him again?” 
I nodded, squeezed her shoulder, and went out of the tent. I spotted Isaac sitting off by himself and gazing up at the stars, as he often did. He gave me a cheerful little wave. I smiled back.
Abraham.” 
I froze, and instinctively glanced back in Isaac’s direction, even though I knew the voice had not come from him. He had not turned to look at me, though—apparently the voice was only in my head this time. 
“Here I am,” I answered the Lord, taking another tentative step away from my tents and flocks, toward the wilderness.
He went on, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” 
I stopped walking. I had heard the words, but I had to repeat them in my mind several times before I understood their meaning. 
“Do what, Lord?” 
He repeated the words, but did not elaborate. For a brief flash, my imagination conjured the image of my only son’s bloody lifeless body, the trail of smoke ascending to heaven. 
“No,” I said aloud, but not to the Lord—to my imagination. Instead, I did as Isaac was doing: I looked up at the stars of the sky. That was the promise. He was the promised child. I’d been through this already. The Lord had made it very clear that He would bless Ishmael for my sake, but Isaac was the one through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed, and the one through whom I would be the father of nations. Yet Isaac was not married and had no children yet. 
That meant he had to live. The Lord just told me to kill him, but he had to live. 
I either wouldn’t have to go through with it, or else—God would raise him from the dead. From the ashes, if necessary. 
I didn’t want to think about what my relationship with my son would be like after I’d slain him, not to mention my relationship with Sarah. But I couldn’t think about that. My imagination tried all night long to return to the moment of slaughter. Every time, I redirected it to afterwards: the moment when Isaac and I would climb down the mountain, together. 
I did not sleep at all.
The next morning I rose before sunrise, eager to get this whole ordeal behind me. I split the wood for the sacrifice, saddled my donkey, and when Isaac rose, I told him to do the same, as well as two servants I intended to take with us. I told the servants to prepare food and water for our journey, and I told Isaac to bid his mother goodbye. I could not do so; my heart was like stone in my chest, and I knew Sarah would take one look at me and demand to know what I was hiding. Isaac surely knew something was wrong, too, but he did not pry. 
We rode for three days in the direction of the land of Moriah, and spoke as little as possible. I caught Isaac glancing at me with concern on more than one occasion, but it was all I could do to grit my teeth and picture the two of us coming down that mountain together. 
He promised, I reminded myself fiercely. God promised. God never lies. God cannot lie. I might have asked myself why God would ask something of me that seemed so far out of character for Him, if I had had the capacity to do so—but it was as if I had tunnel vision. All my attention was focused entirely upon what I had to do, and all my energy upon clinging to God’s promise that somehow, against all hope and against all reason, it would turn out the way God said it would. I had no mental space left over for questions. 
By the third day, I felt like all of my muscles were made of solid rock. Whenever one of the servants tried to speak to me I either did not answer at all, or I snapped my reply. At last, I looked up and saw the mountain of Moriah in the distance. I knew that was it. 
“Stay here with the donkey,” I told the servants. “The lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” 
I saw Isaac watching me with a troubled expression as I took the wood I had split from the donkey’s back, and placed it between Isaac’s shoulders instead. My hands trembled so badly that I could barely get the saddlebag open to retrieve the knife and the flint. Then I turned my back on Isaac, heading for the mountain with fierce determination. 
When we had left the servants far enough behind us, Isaac ventured at last, “Father?”
“Yes, my son.” 
“We have flint and wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
I swallowed before I answered. My mouth was so dry. At last I managed, “Son, God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” I stopped walking, as I listened to my own words. I had not meant to phase it that way; the words simply slipped out. 
God will provide Himself the lamb
God will provide Himself, the Lamb
Over and over the words rattled around in my mind as the mountain grew nearer. I did not understand their significance, but I had a feeling that the words meant more than what I had consciously intended: that we would find a lamb at the right moment for the sacrifice. 
Isaac asked no more, and we walked on, then climbed, in silence. 
At the pinnacle of the mountain, Isaac dropped the wood upon the ground. An inner tremor seized my body, but I breathed through it, assembling the stones for an altar. Isaac helped me, though I could not look at him anymore, and he did not dare address me. 
When the altar was built, I painstakingly arranged the wood. I had been in such a hurry to get here and get this over with, yet now that the moment was here, I wanted to delay it as long as possible. But at last, there was nothing more to do. The time had come. 
I had a length of rope in my pocket. I took it out and turned to my son. He watched me with wide, solemn eyes. We looked at each other for a very long moment, and I knew he knew. I further knew that if he resisted me, this would be impossible. He was thirty-three years old; I was one hundred and thirty-three. He could overpower me with hardly any effort at all.
At last, he stretched out his wrists toward me. I swallowed the lump in my throat, and took a step toward him, then another. I bound his wrists together. Tears ran freely down my cheeks and his as he climbed upon the altar, allowing me then to bind his ankles as well. When this was done, there was nothing to do but retrieve the knife. When I had clasped its hilt and approached my son, I could hardly see for weeping. I raised the knife over his chest.
“Abraham, Abraham!” called a voice from Heaven. 
The knife clattered to the ground, and I fell to my knees. 
“Here I am,” I gasped. 
“Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” 
I cried out and buried my face in my hands, weeping violently with relief and pent-up anguish. 
“Father, look!” Isaac managed to break through my sobs. 
When at last I looked up, I first heard the rustling behind me and then turned around to see a ram with its horns caught in a thicket. I staggered to my feet, unbound Isaac’s ankles and wrists, and he climbed off of the altar. Then he gently took the knife from my hand, crossed to the ram, and slit its throat. Once it was dead, we untangled its horns and dragged its body to the altar. I took the flint and set fire to the offering. 
“The Lord did provide,” Isaac whispered to me over the blaze. “Just as you said.” 
The clouds above parted, and we both looked up. Then the voice declared, “By Myself I have sworn, because you have done this this, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gates of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” 
When the Lord finished speaking, I looked at Isaac, breathless. 
“Did you hear it too?” 
Isaac nodded at me, eyes wide. He reached out and clasped me by the forearm, and I leaned into his shoulder. We sat like that until the ram was consumed and turned to ash, and the smoke began to trail away. 
At long last, Isaac murmured, “You told me before that the Lord had already promised those things to you. I was not aware that the covenant was conditional.”
I shook my head. “Neither was I, until four days ago.” 
I had recovered enough now that I could stand. We had brought nothing with us but the knife and the flint, as the wood had all been consumed. Isaac retrieved these for me, and together we made our way back down the mountain. 
“Why, do you think?” Isaac asked at last, when we were about halfway down. “Why was the covenant dependent upon your willingness to sacrifice me, even if He didn’t mean for you to actually do it?” 
I shook my head. I had been mulling over this same point, but I knew that if the Lord had intended to tell me, He would have done so already. Covenants between humans were always conditional; there were always terms for each party, and each side must fulfill his terms, or the covenant was null and void. I had been asleep when the Lord had made His first covenant with me, though. In my vision, the two parties who walked between the pieces of the sacrifices were a smoking firepot and a flaming torch. I had an inkling then that God Himself represented both parties: He was cutting the covenant with Himself, though I didn’t know what that meant. I was unconscious, and thus, a mere passive recipient. Years later, when God had told me to circumcise every man of my household, I had actually been relieved: here at last was something I could do to participate. And yet, in retrospect, this was not truly participation in the covenant, so much as a sign of the covenant. A covenant meant the two parties shared everything in common: what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine. We hold all of our assets and our liabilities in common. Yet God had all the assets; I had none that He had not first given me. I therefore had never ratified my side of the covenant. 
Not until today. Today, it became binding. 
God will provide Himself, the Lamb. Yes, God had given me Isaac, and in that sense He had provided the lamb. He had then provided the ram as a substitute. But there was more to it than that…
“Father?” Isaac prodded me. 
I shook my head. “I don’t know,” I said slowly. “I have a vague idea that you and I are re-enactors on a stage. But… what were we reenacting?” 
Isaac looked at me. “Or foreshadowing?” 
His words gave me chills. 
 
Mar 19, 2021

Royce King has served in ministry for nearly 30 years. She’s held leadership roles within the church, including youth group leader, Bible study leader, retreat speaker, and others. Her heart for at-risk populations has always spurred her to serve and mentor women and young girls.

Royce King, published author, speaker, and coach, has served startups and nonprofit organizations who desire to grow in revenue and develop leadership skills since 2012.

In this new season of life, Royce is serving missionaries around the world, and is committed to helping others develop a relationship with Jesus. She and her husband reside in Colorado, and have two grown children and a precious granddaughter. She enjoys hiking, traveling, good food, and reading.

Get a copy of her book, Unwrapping Your Worth In Christ here or on her website at roycekingauthor.com.

Feb 19, 2021

Meditation on Judges 5-6

Introduction
Deborah was the only female judge recorded in Israel’s history. We don’t know why that is, or how she got into that position, though we do know that she was a wife and a mother (unless the mention that she is a “mother in Israel,” Judges 5:7, is symbolic of her role over her people). When God instituted judges to help Moses, he was specifically instructed to appoint men to that position. Perhaps, as in the days of Gideon, the men of Israel were all so cowed by their oppressors that God could not find a man of faith, so he found a woman instead. (Gideon eventually did as God asked, but it sure took a lot of convincing on God’s part.) We can see that faith is scarce by Barak’s response when Deborah told him to go up against Sisera—he was so fearful that he insisted that she be the one to lead the armies into battle! Presumably had he done what the Lord commanded through Deborah without shrinking back in fear, the glory for finishing off Sisera would have gone to him, rather than to Jael.
It’s easy to understand why the men were so fearful, if you only look at the situation in the natural. They had been oppressed by King Jabin for at least twenty years. The Israelite armies had not one shield or spear among forty thousand (Judges 5:8), compared to Sisera, who had nine hundred chariots of iron. Most of the tribes of Israel refused to heed Barak’s call (Judges 5:13-18), so even their numbers were pitiful compared to what they might have been. But it didn’t matter: the Lord caused the river Kishon to sweep the chariots away (Judges 5:21). This might have been due to rain overflowing the banks, and the water from the mountains rushing down to the banks as well (Judges 5:4-5)—perhaps due to marshy conditions, the chariots got stuck and were rendered useless. Regardless, when the Israelites came against Sisera’s far more powerful army, they killed every last one of them (Judges 4:16) by the sword—swords they didn’t even have to begin with! Sisera alone fled on foot. Since the Israelites had no swords, presumably they took their enemies’ own swords and used those against them.
Heber, meanwhile, was mentioned just before the verse that someone told Sisera of the assembly of Barak’s armies, so presumably he was the one who tattled. Sisera would have felt safe in Jael’s tent, as she was Heber’s wife. He just assumed that she shared her husband’s political views. Oops.
Jael’s action can be considered as an act of war, rather than murder. She was not permitted to fight openly on the battlefield, so she did what she could. Any of the soldiers on the battlefield would have been delighted to do the same, had they been given the chance.

Fictionalized Retelling

Deborah:
The two disputing Israelite women, now reconciled, made their way down through the mountains of Ephraim. I sat alone under my palm tree now, awaiting the next case the Israelites would bring before me for judgment.
This was my favorite part, though: the moments in between. The moments of peace, where I could just listen to the wind whipping through the palm branches above my head. I closed my eyes, letting the breeze caress my face.
It is time.
My eyes flew open. The sound came to my spirit like a whisper, and yet I knew it as the voice of the Lord. My heart beat faster, because I knew what He meant, too: I had been pleading since my early adulthood, for the past twenty years, to deliver us from the oppressive hand of King Jabin of Canaan. We were the Lord’s people, and He had given the land of Canaan to us—and yet, due to our disobedience, He had allowed us to be oppressed by our enemies. We had not one spear or shield among forty thousand Israelites: not even the means to defend ourselves. We had no money to pay the men who risked their lives on our behalf. I had expected the Lord to provide both of those things before a military approach would be feasible.
And yet, with neither weapons nor money, and most of Israel still trembling in fear, God still told me, It is time.
“What should I do, Lord?” I asked aloud.
What came next was an impression, rather than words. I saw Barak, son of Abinoam from Kedesh, of the tribe of Naphtali. He was on Mount Tabor, with a sea of Israelite men, though I knew without counting that there were ten thousand of them. They were sons of Naphtali and of Zebulun. I saw Sisera, commander of Jabin’s armies, coming against him, his nine hundred chariots of iron all around him. The battle took place at the River Kishon. Despite the inequality of weapons and the fact that Sisera was not taken unawares, in my vision, Sisera’s entire army fell before Barak’s.
“You have shown this to Barak as well?” I asked the Lord out loud. I sensed that the answer was yes.
The next person I saw cresting the hill to where I sat was my husband Lapidoth, and our three children. They skipped like little lambs, and I stood up, grinning, to welcome them. Lapidoth had a basket slung over his arm, which I knew contained whatever food he was able to scrounge up for our midday meal. It was never much, but we never went hungry either. The Lord always provided.
“Busy today?” he asked me, as we all settled down to eat.
My eyes shone as I told him what the Lord had shown me. “Would you summon Barak when you return to the valley?” I asked. “I must speak with him today.”
Lapidoth did as I asked, and several hours later, just at the golden hour before sunset, I saw Barak cresting the hill, alone. He was a large, thickly built man, with a heavy brow and an expression etched in stone. He looked every bit the military commander.
“Has not the Lord God of Israel already told you what you are to do?” I asked him, and described what I saw. “Thus says the Lord: ‘I will deliver Sisera into your hand at the River Kishon.’”
Barak shuffled his feet, cleared his throat, and did not answer me immediately. At last he said, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!”
I stared at him, not sure I heard him right. This man weighed as much as three of me. I was a wife and a mother! True, God had placed me as judge over Israel, though I had always wondered why He had chosen a woman for the position, when Moses had originally indicated that the job should be held by “able men, such as fear God, men of truth …to be rulers of thousands and rulers of hundreds… and let them judge the people at all seasons.” Men, he had specified. Yet, here I was. Was that because God could not find a man worthy to fill the role? Of course I never intimated these thoughts to my husband, who chafed enough that I held a position of leadership in Israel when he did not. But now I saw before me the man God had chosen to lead his armies, and yet he had so little faith that he would demand a wife and mother lead his troops into battle for him!
When I recovered my tongue, I said sternly, “I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”
Barak looked less chagrined at this than I thought he should have. Truth to tell, he looked more relieved than anything else. I arose and went with him to his home of Kedesh, and he sent messengers to the tribes of Israel to recruit soldiers willing to obey the word of the Lord. I was appalled but not surprised when entire tribes refused: Reuben, Gilead, Asher, and Dan sent not a single man. We had a few from Ephraim and from Benjamin, but the bulk of the army, as I had seen in my vision, were from Naphtali and Zebulun. They arrived at Mount Tabor in the coming days bearing what weapons they could find: pitchforks and other instruments of harvesting, stones and homemade slingshots. My heart swelled with the pride of these men who did Israel proud, unlike their brothers.
Oh Lord, there are still some who believe in You!
Yes Daughter, I heard in my spirit. There are always a few.
Down below, Sisera had somehow gotten word that Israel had assembled troops against him—but that was all right. I had expected from my vision that he would. I felt the men grow apprehensive around me as they watched the chariots of iron assembling from Harosheth Hagoyim to the River Kishon. They looked from the chariots down below to their makeshift weapons of farming equipment, their expressions ranging from apprehension to terror. I suppressed a sigh of exasperation.
“Up!” I declared to Barak. “For this is the day in which the Lord has delivered Sisera into your hand. Has not the Lord gone out before you?”
I led the charge down the mountain toward the army below, though I had no weapon in my hand at all. As soon as Barak saw me move, he kept pace with me and soon outstripped me—his legs were much longer than mine. The ten thousand troops kept pace with him, and I soon found myself lost in the thick of the fighting men.
When we reached the River Kishon where Sisera’s armies awaited us, I was confused at first why he did not direct his chariots to surge forward to meet us. Then I saw that their chariots had been rendered useless to them, the wheels stuck in the marshy ground left over from the rain. Sisera’s army had alighted from their chariots to try to dislodge them when Israel descended upon them with a mighty war cry. In short order, the men of Israel had slain their first victims and stolen their swords, at which point they tore through the rest of the army. But I fixed my gaze upon one man, whose chariot looked more impressive than all the others. When it became apparent that he could not dislodge it from the marshy ground, and the first wave of Israelites defeated the front lines of his army, he alighted from his chariot and fled on foot. He ran in the direction of the terebinth tree at Zaanaim, where I suspected his allies were. Behind him, the Israelites slew every last man of his army. He alone escaped.
My eyes narrowed at the man. That, I knew, was Sisera.

Jael:
My husband Heber was a traitor.
We Kenites had historically been allied with the children of Israel, as descendants of Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. But Heber was an opportunist, and decided to ally himself with Jabin, the King of Canaan, instead. He would never fail to side with whoever would benefit him the most.
So we had moved away from the rest of the Kenites, away from everyone we had ever known, and pitched our tent at Zaanaim, where Heber could spy on Israel and report what he had learned to Sisera, Jabin’s military leader. Since Zaanaim was right next to Kedesh, Heber saw when Barak assembled his armies at Mount Tabor. It was he who had alerted Sisera to gather his chariots so that Barak’s army would not take him unawares.
Heber had gone early that morning, to watch what he expected to be the massacre of the Israelites from a safe distance.
Hours went by. I was grateful to have the day to myself at least, but I spent most of it fuming.
I hated King Jabin. I hated Sisera. I hated Heber.
I wanted to be an Israelite again. Or at least an ally to the Israelites. I wanted to belong to their God.
But I was no soldier. I was left out of all machinations, as I was only a woman. What could I do?
Suddenly I froze, hearing a noise I couldn’t quite make out at first. The sound slowly sharpened into the pounding of feet on the ground, and when it got close enough, I heard that it was accompanied by panting as well. Frowning, I approached the flap of my tent and pulled it aside.
Sisera stood before me, alone and on foot, streaming with perspiration.
“Please, my lady,” he gasped, dropping his hands to his knees as he caught his breath. “May I—trouble you for your hospitality?”
I blinked quickly, my mind whirring. Fortunately my mouth worked faster than my brain, and I at once affected womanly concern. “Oh, turn aside, my lord! Turn aside to me; do not fear.” I stepped aside to let the grateful commander pass into my tent. I knew already what I planned to do; I just did not yet know how.
“All of my men have been slaughtered,” Sisera confessed to me, eyes wild with fear. “I alone escaped on foot as you see, and I am sure that the Israelites are pursuing me too now!”
“Never fear, I will keep your secret,” I soothed, and gestured to our own bedding on the ground. “Rest from all your worries. You will need to sleep for a while to have your wits about you, for whatever comes next.” Whatever, indeed.
With no further prompting, Sisera collapsed onto the bed. I clucked my tongue as I pulled a blanket over him, and watched him close his eyes.
“Please give me a little water to drink,” he croaked, “for I am thirsty.”
“I will do better than that,” I cooed, “I have a jug of milk.” I went and retrieved it, and as if he were an invalid or a child, I lifted it to his lips. He drank greedily, the cream running down his chin. He wiped it away with his forearm and lay back down again with a sigh of contentment and relief.
“Stand at the door of the tent,” he begged, “and if any man comes and inquires of you, and says ‘Is there any man here?’ you shall say ‘No.’”
“I will, my lord,” I murmured. “Now close your eyes and rest awhile.”
He needed no further encouragement. Within a few moments, I heard the soft sounds of his rhythmic breathing, followed by occasional snores. I smiled, and went outside the tent, pulling up one of the tent pegs. I wiped off its dirt upon my skirts, and then went back inside, rummaging around for the hammer my husband had used to place it in the first place. Then, grasping the peg in one hand and the hammer in the other, I approached the sleeping commander. He still snored peacefully. Ever so gently, I placed the peg at his temple so as not to wake him. Then, heart pounding, I hammered it in. Straight through to the ground.
Only a woman, I thought, and smiled.
I wiped the blood on my skirts, right next to the dirt, and calmly walked to the tent entrance to wait for the Israelites whom Sisera had said would be hot on his trail.
I recognized Barak as the commander of the Israelite army by the way he was dressed, and flagged him down.
“Come,” I said “I will show you the man whom you seek.”
He followed me inside, and gasped. Then he let out an incredulous chuckle.
“‘The Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman,’” he murmured, but to himself, as if quoting something. Then he looked at me. “I thought He meant Deborah!”
“Your judge?” I asked, confused.
Barak nodded. “I certainly never thought he meant the wife of our enemy!”
I stiffened. “Do not judge me with my husband. We do not see eye to eye, to say the least.”
“No, I can see that,” Barak agreed, with a glance at the dead man in my bed.
After Barak, waves of other Israelites followed, including the famous prophetess herself. Together, Barak and Deborah composed a song of worship to the Lord on the spot, singing about the great victory to the Lord had given them, both at the river, and here in my tent. I choked back tears when they sang about me. The rest of the Israelite soldiers learned the song as they composed it, singing along. I found myself singing along too.
What will Heber say, I wondered with fierce pride, to come home and find that his wife is now the blessed of Israel?

Jan 15, 2021

Today's meditation and retelling comes from Mark 8:22-26. 

Preorder "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here. (Published under my pen name, C.A. Gray)

Afterword

This story gets only four verses, so of course I embellished a lot—we know nothing of this man’s name, family situation, or the circumstances surrounding his blindness. But we do know a little more about Bethsaida: in Matthew 11:21, Jesus rebukes it for the fact that they did not repent, despite the mighty works that had been done in the city. When Jesus fed the 5000, the wilderness was just outside of Bethsaida, so presumably many of those 5000 men, plus women and children, lived there.

While there are plenty of other examples of Jesus getting a person alone or putting away the crowds in order to perform a miracle, this story is unique in that it is the only time recorded where complete healing did not manifest on Jesus’ first attempt. In the case of the woman with the issue of blood, all she had to do was touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, and she was instantly healed. The Centurian’s servant was healed by a word at a distance. And yet Jesus had to take this man by the hand, lead him out of town, and then intentionally lay hands on him twice in order for his healing to fully manifest. The deficiency could not have been on Jesus’ side, so presumably the blind man himself was the problem. Since Jesus had rebuked the town of Bethsaida, and then told the newly healed man not to go back there, I assume that the town itself contributed to this man’s unbelief. We know from Jesus’ reception in his hometown that unbelief hinders mighty works (Mark 6:4-5), so this was probably why Jesus didn’t want this man to return there. Those who receive healing have to know how to stand when the devil tries to devour them again (1 Peter 5:8).

Bethsaida could not have been all bad, though: it was the home of Philip, Andrew, and Peter (John 1:44). And at least two people did have faith that Jesus could help this man, since it said “they” brought him to Jesus—but there is no indication that the blind man himself sought his healing. This was surely part of the hindrance as well. But he allowed himself to be led out of town by the hand by a complete stranger—that took faith. There were a few other people around besides him and Jesus, since he saw “men as trees walking.” Still, he probably felt vulnerable. What if Jesus left him out there? Could he find his way home again, stone blind as he was?

Why did Jesus spit on and touch the man’s eyes? He spit on the eyes of the man born blind also (John 9:41), but when Jesus had been holding his hand all the way out of town, why would he then need to do anything else? It might have been because the man’s faith had been primed to expect a healing touch (Mark 8:22). Jesus had intended to go to the Centurian’s house when the Centurian sent a delegation to say he believed that Jesus’ word at a distance was enough. The Syro-Phoenician woman likewise believed her daughter was healed when Jesus spoke the word only. The woman with the issue of blood put her faith in touching the hem of his garment. Jesus had said, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). So perhaps this man’s faith was that he would be healed when Jesus specifically touched him for that purpose.

In Mark 8:24, Jesus told the man to “look up” (anablepo in Greek). This was the same word used when Jesus “looked up” and broke bread before feeding the 5000, and it means not just looking up physically, but looking into the unseen realm, where there is “every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3). This was the moment when the man could see clearly—in fact, the word “clearly” is telaugos, meaning shining, radiant, or in full light. Perhaps bolstered by the initial improvement in his vision the first time Jesus laid hands on the man’s eyes, he then had hope—and “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Now, he could truly see—in every sense of the word.

Healing of the Blind Man at Bethsaida

Before the accident, I had been a carpenter, with a specialty in fine furniture.

That was an understatement, actually. My name was synonymous with elegant wood carvings in Bethsaida, and even in the surrounding cities. I attracted only the wealthiest clientele. Young hopeful apprentices sought me out, hoping to learn from the master. I’d gruffly rebuffed them for years, even though I was pleased by their interest and flattery; I considered them to be more trouble than they were worth. As time went on, though, I had more clients than I had time, and I realized that it made good business sense to bring on an apprentice. I interviewed several, and chose Ugo, the most eager of the bunch.

That was the biggest mistake of my life.

Ugo worked hard, but he was always in a hurry when he wasn’t actually carving, and so he was accident-prone. I could not make him slow down, no matter how hard I tried. One day in his haste, he collided with a precarious pile of unfinished wood, sending a beam hurtling directly toward his head. On instinct, I knocked him out of the way.

I should have let it crush him.

When I came to, I thought at first that I was in a pitch dark room. Yet there were people all around me, commenting fretfully on my appearance. That was when I comprehended the awful truth.

“I can’t see,” I blurted. “Why can’t I see?”

Shh, lie still, don’t overexert yourself,” the doctor soothed.

“Why can’t I see?” I bellowed, straining against his hands. “Will my vision come back? It’s only temporary, right?”

There was an awful silence. Finally the doctor murmured, “I really can’t say. But I’ve seen injuries like this before, and… usually not.” There was a long pause. I felt like he’d knocked the wind out of me. Then he murmured, “I’m so sorry.”

I lay back against the soft pillow under my head in shock. People moved about somewhere nearby, speaking to one another in low whispers.

“I’ll kill him,” I snarled at last. Then I shouted, struggling to my feet, “I’ll kill that foolish bumbling idiot! Where is he? Where’s Ugo? Put his neck in my hands, right here—!”

A collection of louder voices and large hands forced me back onto my bed, though I bucked and strained against them until I’d spent the last of my meager strength. I at last lay panting and sobbing until I cried myself to sleep.

 

In subsequent years, I grew used to my condition, at least. I had a new routine. I had done well enough while I worked that I was not yet beggared, though I knew the time would come when I would be, if not for the charity of my brothers’ families, who cared for me. From time to time, I wondered if I was already living off their charity, but I spared little thought for that or for anything else. My life was darkness, both literally and figuratively. I slept, ate, and sat, waiting for the days to end. I had neither joy nor hope. When I thought at all, I brooded over what I had lost. I gnashed my teeth when reports reached me of how prosperous Ugo had become. All my clients were now his. He had utterly ruined my life.

Oh, how I wished I could kill him.

 

One day I overheard my brothers talking about a young rabbi, whom they heard was a new prophet in Israel. I snorted.

“There are no more prophets in Israel. Not for hundreds of years. God has abandoned us.”

“What about John the Baptist?” my brother Jacob insisted. “People said he was Elijah.”

I scoffed. “Elijah did miracles. John never did. He wasn’t a prophet.”

“Well, Jesus does miracles, from what I hear. Lots of them!”

“I doubt it,” I muttered.

I knew what the reaction to this would be. Jacob got very stubborn when he was contradicted, and I contradicted him daily. He’d called me a curmudgeon even before my accident, and accused me of becoming ten times worse afterwards.

“You can doubt it if you want, but if he comes to Bethsaida, we’re taking you to him, whether you like it or not!” Jacob informed me.

I uttered under my breath, “I’d like to see you make me.”

But I thought about it later. A lot.

I started to casually ask Jacob, always in a mocking tone of voice, if he’d heard of any new miracles this Jesus had “supposedly performed.” Jacob always had an enthusiastic response for me, often of entire crowds receiving their healing at his hands. He particularly highlighted the stories of eyesight restored. I realized that I started looking forward to these stories as the highlight of my days. Then one night, I dreamt that I could see again. I hadn’t had a dream like this in many years.

I dropped the mocking tone after that when I asked for stories of Jesus. Then I started asking Jacob, as casually as I could, if he’d heard anything about Jesus coming to Bethsaida.

“Nothing yet,” Jacob told me, with a tone of sympathy I hated. “I’ll tell you as soon as I hear—”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said savagely, “It’s all nonsense anyway.”

Abigail, my sister-in-law, scolded me. “You don’t mean that. You’re just trying not to get your hopes up. But maybe you should! Maybe that’s exactly what you need!”

“What do you know about it?” I lashed out at her. “When have you ever been disappointed? When did you lose your entire life in the literal blink of an eye? Don’t you dare lecture me about hope!”

“That’s enough!” Jacob roared as I heard Abigail’s quick, light footsteps leave the room, “never speak to my wife like that again!”

I huffed, crossing my arms over my chest, turning away from the sounds of his voice.

“Sorry,” I muttered about five minutes later. I knew he was still there, as I hadn’t heard him leave. “I know she was just trying to help. But—really! No one understands!”

“If you’d take half a second to get out of your rut of bitterness, there might be a chance for you yet,” Jacob said quietly. “I didn’t tell you this, but before I knew anything about Jesus, he was already here in Bethsaida. And you know what he said about us? He said woe to us, that he did all these miracles and we didn’t repent of our sins and turn back to God. He said—this is what I heard, anyway—‘it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgement than for you!’”

I absorbed this, and then felt my whole body deflate. “Then he’s never coming back,” I croaked.

“There you go again, seeing the worst in everything!” Jacob snapped, “that’s not what I said, and that’s not what he said! My point is, he wants repentance! And your whole life now is a big ball of ‘woe is me,’ because something bad happened to you, and hatred for Ugo because you think it’s all his fault. Yes, something bad happened to you, and yes, it was Ugo’s fault,” he cut me off as I was about to protest, “but it was an accident, and you need to forgive him and let it go instead of letting it consume the rest of your life! Even if you never get your sight back! Then, maybe, if you ever do meet Jesus, you’ll be in a position where you can receive from him!”

I recoiled like he’d struck me. It was, possibly, the first time he had ever successfully rendered me speechless.

Jacob took advantage of the opportunity and stalked out after Abigail, leaving me to absorb his words.

We barely spoke for the next few days. Abigail brought me food, and left. I thought Jacob also came to check on me, but he never spoke to me. On the third day, when I heard footsteps, I called out irritably, “All right, fine! You were right! I’m sorry! …Are you happy?”

The steps came back. “What was that?” Jacob trilled, his tone all exaggerated sweetness.

I huffed. “You heard me.”

“Yes, but I’d like to hear it again. I want to savor this moment for ever and ever…”

“Shut up,” I muttered, but felt a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth. “I’m not saying I forgive Ugo, though. I will never forgive him. Not for as long as I live.”

I could hear the shrug in Jacob’s voice. “Suit yourself. It’s not doing him any harm.”

I heard another set of footsteps behind him. I recognized them as belonging to my other brother, Caleb. He sounded like he was in a hurry.

“Jacob, Jesus is in Bethsaida! Right now!”

“What?” Jacob gasped, as I caught my breath. “I haven’t heard that!”

“Because he just arrived! Come on, I know where he is!”

I had already leapt to my feet. Jacob and Caleb took me each by an arm, and hurried me forward a bit too quickly. I stumbled, and Caleb had to catch me.

“Slow down so I don’t fall over,” I muttered, hiding my almost painful excitement beneath my usual gruffness.

I hadn’t been truly out in a crowd in years. The sound of chatter, laughter, shouts, children, and animals assaulted my ears when we got outside. When I had first lost my vision, it had been very strange to know it was daytime, and yet still not perceive even light, as I once did through closed eyelids when the sun streamed down upon me. I was used to it now, though—the world was universal blackness. Now that there were obstacles everywhere, though, I felt terribly vulnerable. My brothers shielded me from the crowds on either side, and I heard them pressing through, apologizing, and from time to time murmuring to me, “Watch your step, down here,” or “careful, big rock next to your left foot, there you go.” Finally when we must have been close enough, Jacob cried out, “Jesus! Rabbi—let my brother touch you, please!”

My heart hammered, though I felt completely overwhelmed by all the sensory input I had lacked for so long. Jacob let go of my hand, and I felt a sudden wave of terror, even though Caleb still had me firmly by the other hand.

“This is your brother?” said a new voice. It was calm, steady, authoritative. Inexplicably, it set me at ease.

“Yes, Rabbi,” said Jacob, “and as you can see, he is stone blind. But if he can just—”

“Let me take him from here.” A new hand took my free one, and I felt Caleb let go too. The stranger began to pull me away, slowly enough that I did not stumble, but inexorably.

“Where… are you taking me?” I managed.

“Outside of Bethsaida,” he answered.

“Are my brothers with us?”

“No, I left them behind with most of my disciples to restrain the crowd,”  the man answered. “There are a few still with us.”

I should have felt frightened by this, but somehow, I wasn’t. The murmur of the crowds behind us began to die away.

“Are you Jesus?” I asked at last.

I thought I could hear slight amusement in his reply. “Yes, of course. Did your brothers not tell you they were taking you to me? Did you think they would leave you with just anyone?”

I relaxed a little. “They did tell me. I was… just making sure.” Then I added, “Why are we leaving town?”

“Because you have enough of your own unbelief to overcome, without the influence of that town on top of it,” he said, a hint of a growl in his tone. “They are not a healthy influence at present. This is far enough,” he added to the other disciples. “Now.” I heard a sound I recognized as spitting, and then felt the unexpected sensation of wet fingertips on my eyelids. I almost recoiled, but then understood what must be happening.  “Do you see anything?” he asked me.

I opened my eyes through the caked mud and gasped, blinking very fast. “Light! I see light!” I started to laugh. “I haven’t seen anything but darkness in five years—”

“What else?” Jesus asked patiently.

I turned my head this way and that, squinting from the sudden brightness. I saw one short form in front of me, probably crouching. Behind him, I saw three tall dark shapes moving.

“I see men like trees, walking,” I said at last.

The one in front of me—Jesus, I was sure—reached forward and touched my eyes again. “Look up,” he told me. “Not physically. I mean, look up.”

I looked up literally, because I didn’t really understand what he meant otherwise. But as I did, I thought back—not just to before my accident, but long before I was a master craftsman. I thought back to when I used to play with Jacob and Caleb in the fields when we were children, bathed in golden sunlight, laughing so hard my sides hurt. Not a care in the world.

I looked back, and saw the man before me. He was young, dressed as a rabbi, with dark hair and beard, and kind brown eyes. My own eyes filled with tears.

“I can see you!”

Jesus smiled, and one of his disciples behind him let out a low whistle. “Phew, I was starting to get worried!” the disciple said, in a joking tone. Another disciple smacked him on the arm. “Just kidding,” the first disciple protested. “You have to admit, that was a lot harder than usual…”

“Don’t go back to Bethsaida,” Jesus told me, ignoring the antics of his disciples. “Go your way, back to your home.”

“Are you kidding me?” I laughed, “I want to tell everyone!”

“You can tell your family, but not the people of Bethsaida,” Jesus warned. “They will make you doubt your healing. I want you to keep it.”

I blinked, sobered. “I want that too,” I murmured, a little confused. “I… guess I could start my business again in another town. Let Ugo—keep my clients here?” I choked on this last sentence, but it somehow felt right, as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Jesus smiled and gave me a tiny nod of approval.

Now, you can see indeed,” he affirmed.

Dec 25, 2020
Today's podcast is a meditation on Luke 2:36-38, just after Jesus' birth. 
 
You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray
 
Intro
    We know very little about Anna: just three verses encompass her entire life. She was married seven years, and then widowed for eighty-four; probably the youngest she could have been married would have been fourteen, which would make her at least one hundred and five by the time she sees Jesus.
    The Old Testament makes provisions for widows. If they are widowed young, as Anna would have been, a kinsman redeemer is to marry her and provide for her. Perhaps she had none, or perhaps he refused.
    Anna may have had children who had grown by now; maybe she chose to live at the temple only after they had grown. But the verses seem to imply that she had lived at the temple from the time of her widowhood, for eighty-four years. This to me suggests that in seven years of marriage, she never had any children. So either she or her husband were likely barren (and in those days, the woman was usually blamed). Would that be why she never remarried, because she was assumed to be barren? There are promises for the faithful of Israel that none shall be barren or miscarry, though the Word must always be mixed with faith to receive it (Hebrews 4:2). It’s pure speculation to imagine what might have happened in Anna’s case.
    In my retelling, though, I imagine that her decision to remain a widow and live at the temple all her life started out as what she thought was her only choice. As a widow with presumably no family to care for her, she was dependent upon offerings to sustain her anyway (Deut 26:12-13), so it makes sense that she would live at the temple. But as she grew closer to the Lord and invested all her attention on pleasing Him rather than on pleasing a husband, she realized that this was actually better, as did the later Apostle Paul (1 Cor 7:32-40). The Lord is the husband to the widow (Isaiah 54:4-5) just as the Church is the Bride of Christ.
    What did she do during those long years, though? How do you fast and pray for eighty-four years?
    Paul writes that we are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). This does not mean constantly petitioning the Lord for the same things like a broken record, though. Most prayer is not petition at all. Like Adam and Eve strolling with God in the cool of the day, it is simply being aware of Him, spending time with Him. Like David in the Psalms, it is praising Him for who He is, for His goodness, for what He has done. For us today (though not yet for Anna), it is the Holy Spirit showing us things to come and leading us into all truth (John 16), and praying the hidden mysteries of God in tongues (1 Cor 14) to build us up in our faith (Jude 1:20). It’s meditating on and renewing our minds with the Word (Romans 12:2). I imagine that Anna also had plenty of time to pour over the prophecies of the Messiah. She did not yet have the Holy Spirit upon the HS was probably upon her but not w/in her her (or maybe she did, since Simeon did, Luke 2:26, and He came upon Old Testament heroes from time to time!). Regardless, like God’s friends of old such as Abraham and Daniel, He must have revealed to Anna what he was about to do on the earth. That’s why she knew to come in to the temple “that instant,” when Mary and Joseph were presenting the sacrifices for Jesus according to the law. God probably wanted to share with those attuned to Him enough to listen, just like we want to share good news with the people closest to us. He wanted his friends to celebrate with Him!
 
Fictionalized Retelling
    I could have attempted to remarry when I was widowed at the young age of twenty-one. But it would not have been easy, for several reasons.
    First, my husband had no unmarried brothers. There were distant cousins to whom I could turn as kinsman-redeemers, but I knew they would not want me. In the seven years of our marriage, I had not produced a child, so it was to be assumed that I was barren.
    I had a brother and a kindly sister-in-law who would have taken me in, but this would have been a great burden upon them. They were poor, and had three children at the time to provide for already. Also, given my barrenness, it was unlikely that I would ever be taken off their hands.
    So it was clear that I should choose a life of pure devotion to the Lord. I was already predisposed to do so anyway, as I had learned to read at a young age, and during my husband’s long illness, I had poured over the scriptures for comfort.
    At first the stories of old were just stories to me. But in time I began to see the broken heart of God as the theme interwoven through them all: His deep love for His people who time and time again betrayed Him. His love for Israel was like the jealous love of a husband for his unfaithful bride, Israel. The first time I read through Hosea, I wept and wept for the Lord. I was only one woman, but I longed to make it up to Him on behalf of my people, to the best of my poor abilities. He would be my husband, and I would be his bride, spending every moment and every year and every last bit of my strength in loving and worshiping Him. In return, He filled me up with His love so completely that I often felt I could burst with the joy of it. No earthly wife was ever so satisfied as I was with my groom.
    I dwelt in the temple night and day, fasting and praying before the Lord. I slept in the Chamber of the Hearth. I joined in as those who came to the temple presented their little ones for dedication and sacrifice, thanking God for them with as much fervor as if they had been my own. Many times the Lord would give me a specific word for their lives, and I would lay hands on them and prophesy to their parents what they would become. He often led me to join with those who wept and mourned, and lend them the strength and comfort He had given me. I didn’t resent it or feel like I was just being used as an instrument to bless others—it was more like I was partnering with my Husband in His work. It made me feel closer to Him.
    I had been there for almost fifteen years, the first time the Lord let me see Him. Whether it was in the body or in the spirit, I do not know, the Lord knows. But for the first time, I understood what the prophet Ezekiel had described. His language of the Throne Room had been so fantastical that I could not grasp it until I saw it myself. Then I realized that our language falls pitifully short, and Ezekiel had done the best he could! The throne shone a vibrant, clear, shining blue—like a sapphire, though it was not a sapphire. The One who sat on the throne—oh! I have never before beheld anything so beautiful! He burned like fire, except he was not fire itself. It was his glory that shone, radiating an amber color from the waist up, like the vibrant orange of a flame; from the waist down, beholding Him was like looking at the sun, or a star. But the light He produced split into all its component colors, a shimmering rainbow so bright I could scarcely look at it. I, too, fell on my face before Him.
    “Stand, Daughter,” said the voice of the One on the throne, and though it sounded like many waters, in it was also infinite tenderness. “And approach. She who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”
    I recognized the passage as the first verse of Psalm 91. I had spent many years now meditating upon the meaning of the secret place. Here it was! The Lord granted me the desire of my heart—to behold it. To dwell in it! The only way to get into the shadow of the throne was to do as He bid me, to approach very close indeed. It was the one thing I wanted so badly I could hardly stand it, and yet I was so terrified that I dared not move without invitation.
    But He Himself had invited me! I rose, quivering. Somehow my legs obeyed me, and the next thing I knew, I was running to Him. He laughed, and the sound of His laughter filled the throne room with almost palpable joy. Then He stood up, opening His arms to receive me. I had intended to dive behind the throne and hide in its shadow, but to run past His waiting arms would be to reject Him—and that was the one thing in the world I could never, never do. Though I hardly knew how I dared, both terrified and yet bursting with His joy, I ran straight into them. And oh, the bliss of that moment—it is almost indecent to describe it!
    I have not left that embrace these almost seventy years since. Not once.
    As the years went on, the Lord took me more and more to the scriptures that prophesied the coming Messiah, from the prophecy of Eve’s Seed who would bruise the head of the serpent to the Rod of the stem of Jesse prophesied in Isaiah. This meant we would know His lineage, I realized. He would have to come as a baby, not as a conquerer from the ends of the earth! As I realized this, I had a vision of a child, ordinary looking in every way.
    Oh, how I longed for that Child, far more than I had ever desired a child of my own!
    Then one day, the priest named Zacharias emerged from his duties at the temple. There was a commotion around him. Curious, I joined the small crowd of onlookers as he emerged into the outer courts.
    “What took you so long, Zacharias?” the other priests pressed him. “You were in there for ages! We thought we would have to pull you out by the rope!” There was a smattering of laughter at this, but it died away quickly as Zacharias gestured at the Holy of Holies, then up at the ceiling and down, then with his fingers splayed out again and again.
    “What’s he saying?” a few murmured.
    Another said to him, “Can’t you speak?”
    “I think he’s seen a vision! Did you see a vision, Zacharias?” When the priest nodded vigorously, there was a ripple of shock. The questions came faster and all at once after that, but the priest pushed past them, apparently done trying to communicate. It was clear he was eager to leave. 
    He saw an angel, I realized. I swallowed, and asked the Lord, Does this have to do with the coming of the Christ?
    He did not answer me, but I felt that it did somehow. Yet why couldn’t the old priest speak about what he had seen? Why would the Lord reveal something to him in a vision if he could not communicate it to us? That must mean that the vision was just for him…
    Nine months later, I had my answer. I was not there when the elderly priest’s newborn son was circumcised, but the temple was abuzz with the stories.
    “His tongue was loosed as soon as he proclaimed the child’s name was John, and then he prophesied that he would be the forerunner of the Christ, the one Malachi spoke of!”
    My pulse quickened, and again, I had a flash of the baby: the Lord’s anointed. This John was not Him, but He would come soon, I realized. He would come to this very temple for His dedication and sacrifice. I would see Him!
    Will I see Him, Lord? I begged silently. Will I live that long? I was an old woman, over one hundred years old—but surely the Lord could let me live just a little longer. As I had remained in the Father’s embrace all these years, might I also hold Him with my natural arms, before I fell asleep for the last time?
    I petitioned the Lord for this honor daily for the next six months.
    Then one day, I saw devout old Simeon hurrying through the outer courts of the temple. He did not live in the temple as I did, but he was there very often. Usually he was friendly to me—but today, he was on a mission. I followed close behind him, my heart burning with anticipation. Then suddenly, he froze.
    A young couple stood before him. The girl mother held a small bundle, and her husband stood beside her. Both were simply dressed. My eyes fell to the babe in her arms even as I saw Simeon approach them, and my heart leapt to my throat. Simeon reached out for the babe, and the surprised mother yielded him to the old man’s arms.
    “Lord,” Simeon said, his voice loud and clear, yet trembling with emotion, “now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
    The man and his wife exchanged a look of wonder. Still cradling the child, Simeon looked up at the girl and proclaimed, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against—yes, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
    He then relinquished the child into the mother’s arms again, and turned to look at me with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. Trembling, I walked forward for my turn, and beseeched the girl with a question in my eyes. I hoped—oh, so desperately!—that she would offer to let me hold him too. I reached out my withered old hands, and then retracted them again, suddenly fearing that I might be too frail. What if I could not support Him? But just as I pulled away again, the girl gave me an encouraging nod and reached out, placing the bundle in my arms.
    My eyes swam with tears as I held my Lord, as He had held me my whole life long. I looked into the innocent little face. He looked back up at me with His wide dark eyes that seemed just like those of any other infant, and yet—did He know me? I fancied He did. Then He smiled, giggled and cooed. I giggled back like a schoolgirl, the tears running freely down my face. I dared not spare a hand to wipe them away while I held such precious cargo.  
    I thought my heart would burst. But if it did so now, if I died right here, that would be all right.
    “Thank you, Lord,” I managed, “for granting my petition, for granting that I might see and hold the redemption of Your people, here in the land of the living! This is the Child who was foretold in the beginning, the Seed of Eve, the root of Jesse, the Lion of Judah, and the Lamb of God!”
    I lifted up my eyes in thanksgiving, as the mother whispered, looking from me to where Simeon had been, “How do you both know this?”
    “The same way the shepherds knew,” her husband murmured to her. “Everyone close to the Lord seems to know…”
    “It’s an open secret,” I agreed, grinning at the man. “He’s only been talking about it since the dawn of time.”   
 
Nov 20, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

Today's retelling comes from Genesis 2:21-3:24.

Intro: 

Ugh. How heartbreaking it must have been for God, though He knew that this moment would come from the very beginning. Every good gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17), and He had bestowed the best He had upon Adam and Eve, the crowning glory of His creation. But what He wanted was a real relationship with them, in which they chose to obey Him—not because they had no alternative, but out of love and respect. They had to have a choice in order to do this. So God placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the “midst” of the garden—presumably, right in the middle. They would have passed by this tree more often than any other in the garden. The choice was always right there, in plain view. But when they were innocent, they did not even notice it. Why would they? Every need had already been met. They trusted God implicitly.

Enter Satan, who would not be so called anywhere in the book of Genesis. Perhaps it was he who took the form of the serpent, or perhaps he would just inspire the serpent to deceive Eve. In his cunning, he overlooked every blessing, every ‘yes’ God had given Eve, and focused entirely on the one ‘no.’ It’s also interesting that he approached Eve instead of Adam. God had never told Eve anything about the tree directly—He had told Adam that it was forbidden, and Adam had relayed this to Eve. Her knowledge of what God had said about the tree was secondhand. Because of this, just like playing “telephone,” she got it just slightly wrong. She thought they had been forbidden even to touch the fruit of the tree. God never said this, which may have been significant. Perhaps when Eve touched the fruit and nothing happened, it convinced her that the rest was false also.

Satan also convinced Eve to question God’s character. Temptation to sin always includes some element of this. If she had never wondered whether there was a blessing that God had withheld from her, she never would have eaten the fruit (2 Cor 11:3).
Why was their nakedness what they noticed first after the fall? Andrew Wommack’s theory is that they were previously so dominated by their spiritual “sight” that they simply did not notice the physical. I don’t think this is entirely true, since everything else in the garden was physical—but it is true that they died spiritually as soon as they disobeyed God. It was not until after Jesus’ resurrection that spiritual rebirth became possible. The challenge now is to renew our minds so that we can see into the spirit, where we have every spiritual blessing available (Eph 1:3), rather than walking by sight (2 Cor 5:7).

Immediately after the fall, Adam and Eve experienced fear for the first time (Gen 3:10). Fear does not come from God (2 Tim 1:7); it only comes when we do not understand and trust in God’s perfect love, which casts out fear (1 John 4:18). But if they had understood God’s perfect love, they never would have obeyed the serpent in the first place. Punishment did come, but it was not for punishment’s sake. The world was now corrupted, and it was God’s mercy that expelled them from the Garden so that they could not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever in that fallen state! God did not want that for them: to be always decaying but never dying, always separated from Him, always in their sin. He wanted us to have eternal life, but spiritually, not just physically.
Once they became aware of their nakedness, they needed to cover it—which required death. They died spiritually the moment they fell, but physical death would come, for them, centuries later. To “cover” them until then, God had to kill an animal—a symbol of Christ’s ultimate atonement for all sin (Hebrews 9:22). (I chose a lion in this retelling because Christ is referred to as both the Lion of Judah and also the Lamb of God, but I figured a single lamb probably wouldn’t produce enough skin to cover both Adam and Eve unless God wove its wool into clothing, and the scripture doesn’t say He did that.)

When God pronounced that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head, this of course referred to Jesus. It’s interesting that part of Adam’s curse was that the ground would produce thorns, and Jesus wore a crown of thorns on the cross—a symbol of bearing the curse for us so that we could be redeemed from it (Gal 3:13). But Eve did not understand that the Savior would be many generations hence. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “Behold, I have gotten a man, the Lord” (Gen 4:1, though some translations say, “I have gotten a man from the Lord.” The original Hebrew does not include the word “from”). She presumably thought this was the Messiah, come to redeem them already. Perhaps she hoped that through him, she and Adam would be able to return to Eden. Sadly, rather than becoming their redemption, Cain became the first murderer instead.

When Christ comes the second time, in the New Jerusalem, the Tree of Life will again be freely available to the redeemed (Rev 2:7), and its leaves will be for the healing of the nations (Rev 22:2). Then, restored to our original perfection, eternal life—body, soul, and spirit—will be ours once more.

Fictionalized Retelling

 I breathed in, and I was. The air filled every part of me with life.
This was the first thing I knew. Then I opened my eyes.
The Face I beheld was like light itself, though there was also light behind Him. I had no concept of anything until that moment, but that Face was the very definition of beauty. I gazed up at Him, rapturous. His eyes were like liquid love, bursting with color, their expression infinitely gentle.
“Hello, my dear,” said my Creator.
“Hello,” I murmured back in wonder, marveling at the sound of my own voice, at the feel of it vibrating in my throat. On instinct I reached for Him, but had not fully completed the action when I stopped, distracted by the wonder of my own limbs. I held them up before my face, wiggling my fingers and watching them obey me. My Creator chuckled, and the sound thrilled me with warmth. I shivered, every nerve humming with the sensation.
“We are Elohim,” the Creator told me. “You may call me God.”
“God,” I whispered, reaching again for His face. He did not repulse me, but let me caress Him, leaning in to my palm and covering it with His own. He grinned down at me, and I reflexively grinned back.
“Come. There is someone I want you to meet,” God said. He set me on my feet, and I marveled at the feeling of the spongy, dewy ground beneath my feet. As soon as I noticed the sensations, the words for them came to me. I marveled at that too: that I knew so many things I had never learned.
I looked up at God, and though before I had thought of Him as infinitely larger than I was, I found that he was only about a head taller. He held my hand in his. He shone like the orb overhead that bathed us all in its light. I turned my attention to it next, and then to all it illuminated. There was a canopy of green above us, the foliage of thick trees. I identified the sounds around us as flowing water and chirping birds. I turned to see the cheerful river behind us. Flowers of every color, shape, and size bloomed all around us, and living creatures hummed all around them: hummingbirds, butterflies, bees. Other creatures covered in fur or feathers roamed throughout the land too, each of them unique and lovely in its own way.
“What is this place?” I asked in wonder.
“Do you like it?” He asked, but the delight in his question made it clear He knew my answer already.
“Oh, yes!”
“I have called it Eden. I made it for you, Adam.”
I turned back, excited to hear my own name. “Am I called Adam, then?”
“You were taken from Adam, your husband. I have given him the task of naming all My other creatures, so I will give him that privilege with you as well. Until then, you too are Adam.” God gestured before us, under a palm tree. “This is your Adam. He is called a man.”
A new sensation stirred in me as I beheld the creature God indicated. The man had flesh instead of fur or feathers, like I did. My eyes traced the curve of his face. His strong jaw beneath his dark beard. My mouth fell open in awe. Like all the animals, he too was beautiful, but in a completely new way. His kind of beauty allured me in a way that none of the other animals had done. As I took all of this in, he sat up, as if waking from a deep sleep.
Then he saw me. His expression went slack, and I watched, gratified, as he drank me in as I had him. Slowly, he rose to his feet and took tentative steps toward me.
Beside us, God beamed, delighting in our admiration of each other as much as we were. He said, “Adam, meet your helper. I have fashioned her from one of your ribs. I trust you prefer to have it back in this form.”
Adam’s eyes filled with tears, as he turned to God, unable to speak, the gratitude obvious in his face. Then he looked back at me, and spoke. I could tell, even though I had never heard him speak before, that his voice was hoarse with emotion.
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” When he got close enough, he reached for my face, in the same way that I had originally reached for God’s. I copied the motion, laying my hand on top of his when he touched my cheek.
“I will call her Eve, because she will be the mother of all the living.”
“Eve,” I repeated, trying the sound of my own name on my tongue. I liked it. I smiled at Adam and he smiled back at me. There was nothing more to say. 
“I will leave you two to get acquainted,” God murmured, and took His leave. For a second the thought that He was gone alarmed me, but then Adam slid his hand from my cheek to my hand, entwining his fingers with mine. When I turned back to him, the expression on his face was so full of tenderness that I felt answering tears prick in my eyes.
“You… are… exquisite,” Adam whispered to me. The words filled me up almost the way that first breath had done. I had not known I wanted to be exquisite until my husband said it—but suddenly, it was all I wanted.
“Aren’t you going to show me around?” I teased, though I was very pleased that he could not seem to look away from me.
“I will try, but I cannot promise I will be able to walk without tripping over my own feet,” he replied in the same tone. “I’ll be too busy looking at you.” I giggled, marveling at that instinct too and delighting at the feel of it. Somehow, I knew what laughter was.
Adam led me through the garden by the hand, calling the animals to him by name and then showing them to me. I reached out to caress them all, from the elephant to the lion to the mouse, and they nuzzled me affectionately in return. I gestured to the lion to open his mouth for me, marveling at how sharp his teeth were. He let me poke them with the tip of my finger, patiently waiting for me to extract my hand before he went about his business. I watched as he used those sharp claws to dig up root vegetables hidden in the earth, so hard that I would not have considered them food. But the lion’s incisors tore into the vegetables with no trouble at all.
My own stomach growled as I watched the lion eat. Adam explained, “You are hungry. Here.” He plucked a bunch of berries from a tree, handing them to me. Then from another, he plucked something very hard and brown. I frowned at it, unsure how it might turn out to be food like the berries, until Adam showed me how to remove the outer shell to reveal the soft meat inside. Nuts, he called them. When I tasted them both, my face lit up wth delight as the flavors exploded on my tongue: tart and sweet and savory, all at once.
“What about that one?” I pointed at a tree that bore round fruit that looked like burnished gold.
“You want one of those?” Adam grinned, trotting over to the tree and plucking two of the golden fruit. He returned and handed me one, taking a bite out of the other himself. “I think this one is my favorite too. God called it the Tree of Life.”
“So many different kinds of food!” I exclaimed, looking around the garden to see if I could distinguish all the fruits around me from the flowers.
“God gave us all of the green herbs and fruits with seeds for food,” Adam explained, “except for the one in the middle, the one that makes those sort of oddly shaped reddish brown fruits, see it?” He pointed at the tree next to the Tree of Life, and I nodded.
“Why not that one?” I asked.
“He said it is called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and He said that we shall not eat it, for the day that we eat of it, we shall surely die.”
For the briefest second, I felt an ominous shadow pass over my heart at these words. Die? What did die mean? But then it was gone. I shrugged. We had plenty of other trees to choose from. I saw no reason to bother about the one forbidden tree.
The day began to wane and the light changed from white to golden before we had finished our tour of Eden. I pointed up at the sky with a slight questioning frown, though I wasn’t concerned so much as confused.
“It is called sunset,” Adam explained. “Day and night lasts a total of twenty-four hours. It’s not precisely twelve and twelve hours of day and night, but close. God says the ratio between the two will change with the seasons.”
“What are seasons?” I asked, wide-eyed.
Adam shook his head. “I don’t exactly know, I haven’t seen them yet. But God says it’s when weather changes, and the sun and celestial bodies change their positions throughout the year.”
I thought about how I knew that twelve and twelve made twenty-four. This too delighted me. But I forgot all about addition when I watched as the colors changed across the sky, from golden light to pinks and golds and purples. I gasped, clapping with delight.
“God!” I called out to Him, suspecting He was not far away. “Good show!”
He emerged from the trees in the cool of the day, strolling unhurried, and beamed at us.
“Thank you, my dear,” He said, sitting down on the marshy grass beside us. We sat too, and I leaned into his gleaming white robe, nestling my head on one of His shoulders. God stroked my long dark hair away from my face. I sighed with contentment. Adam sat down on God’s other side, interlocking elbows and also leaning into Him. The three of us watched as the sun descended below the horizon, and then suddenly the darkness was not just darkness.
“What are those?” I exclaimed in wonder, pointing up at the tiny pinpricks of light in the dark sky. “And that?” I pointed at the large glowing orb spangled with shadows.
“The moon and the stars,” God explained. “The moon is to govern the night just as the sun governs the day. Stars are just like the sun, but much, much further away in outer space.”
“What is outer space?” I asked, wide-eyed.
“It is where the earth is hung, and there are other planets also, though not exactly like earth. Earth is very special,” He told me with a tender smile, touching the tip of my nose affectionately. Satisfied, I nestled back against Him, yawning.
“Why do I feel so tired?”
“Because it is time for you to sleep,” God whispered, lowering me down to the spongy ground beside my husband, who automatically wrapped an arm around me. “It restores your energy so that you will be fresh again tomorrow morning…”
I did not hear the last of God’s words before I drifted off.
The first rays of the sun filtered through my eyelids the following morning. They fluttered open and I sat up, mouth agape in wonder yet again as the same colors from sunset danced across the sky at sunrise as well. I glanced at Adam, who somehow managed to continue his slumber despite the light. A little family of squirrels slept on the ground near us, and beside me, a bear stretched its sharp claws, yawned, and took a swipe at the fruit on a nearby tree. I skipped over to him and stroked his fur in good morning. But then I jumped back—not from the bear, but from something living in the branches of the tree beside us that I had not seen before. It looked like one of the branches itself, but it seemed to slither. My eyes scanned until I found first its tiny legs, and then its face. The eyes sharpened upon me, and it opened its mouth.
“Good morning, Eve,” it hissed.
I had not heard any of the other animals in the garden speak besides Adam, myself, and God. But everything was new to me, so I thought nothing of it.
“Good morning, serpent,” I greeted it, remembering the name Adam had given the creature.
I was just reaching for the same fruit the bear had breakfasted on, when the serpent said, “You don’t want to eat from this tree. The fruit is very bitter.”
“Oh,” I hesitated. But then I shrugged, and turned to a vine nearby, bearing clusters of juicy-looking red grapes. But the serpent’s words stopped me again.
“You know which fruit tastes more delicious than all the others?” I looked at him, curious, and he gestured with his head toward the center of the garden. “That one.”
“The tree of life?” I asked, delighted. “Yes, Adam and I sampled it yesterday, and it was my favorite so far!”
“No, not that one, the one beside it,” the serpent hissed. “The one with the reddish brown fruit.”
I frowned. “The one from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” The serpent nodded, and I said, “But… Adam said God forbade that one.”
“Is that right?” the serpent hissed, slithering its head closer to me. “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’”
I frowned, trying to puzzle out the meaning of this phrase. The negatives in it confused me. When I finally worked out its meaning, I said uncertainly, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” I thought that was what Adam had told me. It had been something like that, anyway.
“Ah,” hissed the serpent, his fork-like tongue flicking out toward me as he spoke. “You shall not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
I blinked at the serpent, then turned to look at the tree. I tried to process the serpent’s words. He was saying… God… lied to us? That He was withholding a blessing from us out of… jealousy? The thoughts felt clunky and unfamiliar. They made no sense. God was perfection. Our only experience of Him was that He was good and kind and wonderful. He loved us.
I had paid almost no attention to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil before. Yet now that the serpent pointed it out to me, I noticed that the fruit, strange looking though it was, did look enticing. And the serpent said—even God had said—that the tree would make us wise, as God Himself was wise. And after all, if God had not wanted us to eat of it, why did he put that particular tree in the midst of the garden, I reasoned? I took a hesitant step toward the tree, and then another and another until I stood right in front of it. I reached out and touched one of the reddish brown fruits, cringing for half a second—but nothing happened. It was just like touching any of the other fruits in the garden. I laughed, exultant, and plucked the fruit from the branch, all hesitation now forgotten.
“What are you doing, Eve?” I turned to see Adam standing beside me, a note of alarm in his voice.
A new emotion of defiance rose up on the inside of me. I had just proven that what Adam told me God said about the tree had been false, hadn’t I? I had touched it and had not died! I plucked a second fruit from the tree and tossed it to Adam. Then, before he could stop me, I opened my mouth and took a bite.
“Eve, no—!” Adam shouted, reaching out as if to dash the fruit from my hand—but it was too late.
I chewed, savoring the delicious burst of sweetness across my tongue. For a brief second, I relished the thought that the serpent was right—the fruit was indeed the best I had yet tasted. But just as quickly, a bitter flavor overtook the sweetness. I made a face, dropping the remainder of the fruit to the ground and staring at it. I had a sudden urge to wash away the taste.
“You shall die,” Adam croaked. His expression cut me to the heart. Suddenly I felt another new emotion come over me: horror. What had I done?
“It was only one bite,” I whispered back. Suddenly the wind whipped around my body, and I looked down. A hot wave of shame passed over me as I realized—I was naked! I dropped to a crouch to cover myself, a sudden impulse from an instinct that I had not had before. How had I not noticed? How had Adam not noticed? He was naked too, yet he still stood unashamed, displaying himself before me and all of the creatures in view. We had been naked even before God Himself!
Adam’s focus was not on his body, though; it was on the fruit I had given him.
“If you must die, then I must die with you,” he murmured, raising sorrowful eyes to me. “I do not want to live without you.” Then he opened his mouth, and despite the look of disgust, also took a bite.
He chewed and swallowed, then dropped the remains of the fruit on the ground as I had done. He stared at it with sudden revulsion. Then he looked down at his body, and I saw his cheeks color as he realized what I had realized a second before. He moved both hands to cover his nudity.
“How did we not know?” he moaned. “Oh! How shameful!”
“All the animals have fur or feathers, but we—” I agreed, wincing. “What are we to do? We must at least cover ourselves somehow before God returns…”
Adam shrugged, biting his lip. He gestured with his chin to the leaves of the tree from which we had just eaten, unwilling to move his hands away from his genitals. “I’ll try to sew together some of the leaves,” he said, “but I’ll need to use my hands to do it, so you have to promise not to look.”
“You have to promise not to look at me, either!” I declared.
Adam gave me a sad smile. “But you are so beautiful.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, not in the mood. He sighed.
“All right, I promise. Turn around.”
I obeyed, but since we had promised not to look at each other anyway, I decided I might as well make myself useful, and approached the tree where I had seen the serpent. Both serpent and bear were gone now, so I began to pluck leaves from that tree, wondering how Adam intended to weave them into clothing. I collected a pile of leaves, and then stripped some of them to just the stalk that ran down the center of the leaves, thinking that would somehow serve as thread. I started to knot some of them together, and then poked holes in the remaining leafy part of the other leaves, so as to thread the knotted leaf stem through them. It was slow work, and many of the leaves tore before I could connect enough of them to do any good. I finally managed to make myself a little apron to at least cover my genitals, but it was a poor covering indeed, and hid very little. I realized I'd have to connect many more leaves to cover my breasts, and the sun was already past peak in the sky. I decided instead to try to find something sticky, so that they could adhere directly to my body. I tried clay, but that lasted all of two seconds. Then instead I used a bit of sap from a tree. This worked better, but it meant everything else I touched adhered to my hands—
“Eve!” Adam hissed, and I perked up my ears, at once understanding what he meant. We both heard the sound of footsteps, and knew they belonged to God. My poor leaf apron fluttered to the ground as I fled, hiding with Adam among the underbrush. The branches poked at us, but I hardly noticed, my heart pounding so hard with fear that we would be seen. Once in the bushes, I tried to wipe the remaining sap off of my hands on its leaves, but found that it would not go.
“Stop it, He’ll hear you!” Adam hissed, stilling my fidgeting hands.
Just then, we saw God enter the clearing from between the branches of our hiding place. I suddenly envied Him His gleaming white robe. When His face turned so that we could see it from our hiding place, I saw His puzzled, slightly concerned expression.
“Adam! Where are you?” God called out.
I looked at Adam, shaking my head sharply, but I saw that he intended to reply.
He opened his mouth and called back, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and hid myself.”
Now God turned and looked straight at the bush where we hid. Adam stood up only so high as to expose his chest, still kneeling to conceal the rest of him. God’s expression grew stern.
“Who told you that you were naked?” He demanded. “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”
Adam trembled, and then pointed at me, still fully crouched beside him. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”
My mouth fell open, indignant. But then I realized that I could not truly protest. His statement was quite true.
God turned to me. “What is this you have done?” He demanded.
It took me a moment to find my tongue. When I did, I blurted, “The serpent deceived me! And I ate.”
God waved His hand, and the serpent appeared from nowhere on the ground between Him and us. The sky grew dark, and God said in a terrible voice to the serpent, “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go—” and as He pronounced this, the serpent’s legs dissolved into nothingness, until he was all tail, “and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”
Even as God spoke it, I saw its fulfillment in my mind’s eye. My Seed would be my son. He would conquer the serpent. He would redeem Adam and me from what we had done. He would be the Lord Himself…
No sooner had God finished speaking, though, He turned to me. I was compelled to look at His face, and I saw at once mingled anger and heartbreak. It made me want to weep.
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
I bowed my head, accepting God’s punishment. Since I got us into this mess, it was only fair that I should labor and travail to bring forth the Savior who would get us out of it. And Adam was right—it was my choice to disobey God, not his—at least not originally. If I had listened to my husband, none of this would have happened.
Then God turned to Adam, who trembled under God’s gaze.
“Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
Adam buried his face in his hands and wept. God’s expression sank into sorrow as well, all His anger now spent.
“Lion,” he called out, and summoned the creature I had met the morning before. The great cat bounded toward the Lord, frolicking around Him playfully and swishing its tail this way and that. The Lord caressed its mane tenderly. Then, with one swift jerk, a horrible crack sounded. I screamed, and the lion slumped, lifeless.
I could not stop screaming, even though Adam hushed me as best he could. Even God wept openly now.
“The wages of sin is death,” He said to us, a terrible grief in His voice as He removed the lion’s skin and knit it together into tunics to clothe us. When He had finished, he approached the bush where we both shied away from Him, and deposited both tunics upon the top of the bush, turning away from us. Adam shimmied into his first, standing up fully for the first time once he was covered. Then I did the same, standing beside him.
We heard Elohim say to Himself, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever—” He turned back to face us, tears still flowing freely. “You must leave the garden now,” He said, “and go out into the wilderness to make your way as best you can. To live forever in your current state would be a fate far worse than death.”
Fresh tears gushed on to my cheeks at this word. “But—you said my Seed would crush the head of the serpent!” I blubbered, hardly able to make myself understood. “He will redeem us, surely?”
“Yes, daughter, He will,” God assured me, “but not for what to you will seem a very long time.”
So Adam took my hand, and led me through our lush home for the last time. Beyond it lay nothing but desert. We would survive, of course—I must bring forth a man, so we must survive somehow. Death, it turned out, was not immediate. And yet, leaving the garden and leaving the Lord God behind us was a kind of death. For the lion, death had certainly been immediate, I thought with a pang of sorrow. And the poor lion had done nothing wrong. It died for our sin, to cover our nakedness.
I turned around to look back at the garden one last time. A ring of creatures that looked like the Lord in luminescence stood before the tree with the golden fruit, bearing swords that shone like the sun. Then I turned away again, looking out into the wilderness that was to be our new home.
“But we will still return one day,” I whispered to Adam as we walked out into the desert. “Right?”
“One day,” he whispered back, and squeezed my hand.

Nov 6, 2020

Today's podcast is a meditation on a concept found throughout scripture of walking by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7) but we jump around a LOT on this one. 

Oct 23, 2020

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

Background music courtesy of bensound.com

Sep 25, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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 11, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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.”

 
Aug 28, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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 14, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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.

Jul 31, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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 17, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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 3, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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 19, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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 5, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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 22, 2020

You can get a copy of "Messiah: Biblical Retellings" here: my collection of retellings of the miracles of Jesus, published under my pen name, C.A. Gray

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. 
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