The Glance of the Lord

April 19, 2013

Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, recorded his invasion of Judah on a prism. It reads: “As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke…. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.”* The Bible’s account of this incident is found in 2 Kings 18:13-19:37, 2 Chronicles 32:1-22, and Isaiah 36:1-37:36.

The mighty Sennacherib claimed to have laid siege to 46 of Judah’s strong cities and countless villages according to his own account. But in laying siege to Jerusalem, Sennacherib’s officer boasted of being stronger than Jehovah. Lord Byron’s poem recounts the outcome of this boast.

The Destruction of Sennacherib

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay wither’d and strown.

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass’d;
And the eyes of the sleepers wax’d deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
But through it there roll’d not the breath of his pride:
And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
And the might of the Gentiles, unsmote by the sword,
Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

God’s decisive battle was fought at Calvary. In the remaining time are the mopping up skirmishes between good and evil. We have been left to pray and to work: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” But make no mistake: God is in control. At times, I need to be reminded that the mere glance of the Lord is stronger than all of God’s enemies.

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*Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 288.


When Doomsday Fails

May 27, 2011

Unless you were in a total media blackout, you heard the predictions of Harold Camping. He predicted the rapture to occur on Saturday, May 21, 2011 at around 6 p.m. His followers sold possessions (after all they weren’t going to need them for long) in order to get the message out. I admire their boldness but lament the message wasn’t true to the Bible.

Camping believed that Noah’s flood was in 4990 B.C. He took the words from Genesis 7:4 (“Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth”) to be a prediction of the end of the world. He argued that a day equaled a thousand years because of 2 Peter 3:8 (“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day…”). By the way, Peter is quoting from a Psalm 90, and the psalm says that a 1000 years to the Lord is also like a watch in the night. Camping takes the 17th day of the second month in Genesis to equal May 21. So 7000 years after the flood, Camping was predicting the rapture. He is now recalculating and arguing that the Judgment Day was spiritual and the new date for the rapture is October 21, 2011.

In case you didn’t notice, Camping’s argument contains many assumptions. But the biggest problem is the argument contradicts Jesus’ own clear statement:

But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. Matthew 24:36, ESV

Jesus had all the same biblical data that Camping has, but Jesus said he didn’t know and taught that his coming would be like the thief in the night — that is unexpected (Matthew 24:43 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2). After his resurrection, the apostles were inquiring about the times, and Jesus instructed it wasn’t for them to know (Acts 1:6-7).

Camping is not the first predictor of doomsday. Many predictions have been made since the 19th century. The new millennia brought about the feverish activity of many speculations as it did in A.D. 1000. My concern is when the prediction of doomsday fails. It may discourage faith and seeking after the truth of Jesus Christ by some, and it may encourage the skeptics to scoff even more.

The Bible does not teach us to predict dates for the coming of Jesus. But it does teach that Jesus is coming again, and a Day of Judgment lies ahead for each of us. Instead of encouraging speculation, it warns us to be prepared.


When Tyrants Rage and Buildings Fall

March 18, 2011

When tyrants rage and buildings fall, it may seem that our world is falling apart. Stories of political unrest and natural disasters fill our 24-hour news cycle, and there may be an emotional impact to it. We feel that we are living in a time of uncertainties, and we may wonder: what’s next?

Such questions are not new.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–5, ESV)

We don’t know for certain the motive of those who related the account of Pilate and the Galileans. Some have suggested that they were following up Jesus’ discussion about interpreting the times a few verses prior (Luke 12:54-56). What is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t turn this into a national or global discussion.

With question and answer, Jesus affirms that these Galileans were not worse sinners than others. It wasn’t as if this calamity had fallen upon them as a matter of divine justice. This was a case of moral evil — the actions of a tyrant — falling upon individuals caught up in the politics of the day. Jesus expands the example to include a tower that had fallen and killed eighteen. Here we have a case that we would describe as a natural disaster. Construction accidents occur. Storms come. Earthquakes happen. Again, Jesus affirms that these victims were not worse sinners than others in Jerusalem who escaped the disaster.

Instead of drawing some big picture application from these disasters, Jesus makes a very personal warning: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Death and disasters are a consequence of sin in the world, but the spiritual consequences of sin are very personal. I may not know what will happen in tomorrow’s news, but I’m aware that two events are in my future: my death (unless Jesus returns first) and the Day of Judgment. When I see disasters happen, I need to ask a personal question: is a spiritual disaster coming upon me because I’m not ready to meet my Maker. Repentance is that change of mind and heart that leads me to say and live “not my will, but Yours, be done.” When tyrants rage and buildings fall, the important question is: am I spiritually ready?


Is Life a Test?

March 4, 2011

Dr. Gregory House is television’s fictional curmudgeonly doctor. House is a misanthrope and an atheist. In a scene where the characters were considering whether there is anything to people seeing a white light at the end of the tunnel in near death experiences, House retorts that it is simply the chemical reactions to the brain shutting down. There is nothing after death, and he finds that comforting. When questioned about this being comforting, he replies: “I find it more comforting to believe that this isn’t simply a test.”

The scene succinctly raises an important issue about life. Is life a test or not? The Christian worldview gives a much different answer than the one given by the fictional Dr. House. The question is worth pondering.

I suspect that the comfort gained from saying life isn’t a test goes something like this. Death is the end. There is no judgment, heaven, or hell. We can’t get life wrong. It’s like the elation of the student who finds out there is no final exam.

Yet, this perspective comes with a terrible cost. It would mean that life has no ultimate meaning despite the fact we all seem to seek to make our life meaningful. It would mean that no moral values exist, other than the ones I subjectively create for myself, or we decide as a group, or some elite, powerful group decides for us. Yet such values are more akin to “I like chocolate; you like vanilla” than they are to “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.” The dictator who exterminates millions, the gunman who takes out passersby in a shopping mall, or the woman who donates time at a soup kitchen are all just different ways of living life. Who’s to say which is better? They all die. If life is not a test, no one passes or fails.

Believing that life is a test certainly has ramifications. Since my choices in life can lead to eternal loss or eternal bliss, choices are filled with meaning and cannot be taken lightly. A choice between good and bad really exists. Doesn’t my sense that some things are not fair suggest that there is something about moral decisions that goes beyond my subjective feelings about them?

Such a life is more than a pass or fail for the afterlife. Life becomes a moral adventure. We have the opportunity to grow in goodness, love, and kindness. We learn the challenges of standing up for justice and fairness in a world that is frequently unfair. Honesty grows into transparency as we learn to be honest about who we are in all circumstances. The trials of life produce patient endurance.

I find comfort in life being a test. It means life matters, and death is not the end.

It’s a profound question. The course of your life will be affected by your answer. Is life a test?


Forever Life

March 3, 2010

“For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes… All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls…” These are biblical metaphors for the brevity of life. Our physical life is fragile. Death has no minimum age requirement, but this isn’t the entire story.

Two different eternities stretch out before us depending on our choices in life.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. (Romans 2:6–8, ESV)

We must understand the “patience in well-doing” of the previous passage as pointing to faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-31). Jesus makes all the difference.

Jesus is also our reason for believing in life after death. We have several lines of evidence that converge: the Old Testament prophecies and the eyewitness testimony of the gospels. The alternate explanations – growth of legend, hallucinations, stolen body, wrong tomb, and Jesus merely swooning on the cross and not dying – fail to convince even many skeptics. As someone has observed, we need something the size and shape of the resurrection to explain the dramatic transformation of the disciples and the conversions of James and Paul.

So we have someone who can speak authoritatively about life after death – Jesus, the Risen One. We have two different eternities stretching out before us depending on our choice about Jesus.

Jesus used a number of images to describe hell – “outer darkness, unquenchable fire, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.” Whatever surface contradiction is contained in these words is resolved in human experience excluded from God. Even in the worst moments of this life, there are snatches of beauty and glimpses of goodness. To be excluded from God is truly death.

A marriage banquet of the Lamb, a glorious Jerusalem, and an exalted Garden of Eden with Trees of Life aplenty are the images of eternal life with God. Love, goodness, and beauty are God’s gifts and tokens of his presence. If two eternities stretch out before us, give me that which can truly be called forever life.


A Difference of Perspective

May 4, 2009

The two men suppressed their laughter. He was joking—wasn’t he? Or was he just a paranoid old man, even if he was about to become their father-in-law.

He pleaded, but the young men had objected, “We live in a fertile area. It’s like a garden. The city is prosperous. Our lives are secure and pleasant. Why would anyone want to move, especially so suddenly? What could happen? Why should we expect tomorrow to be any different from any other day?”

He preached of the dangers of neglecting the poor, arrogance before God, and immorality. He warned of a Day of Judgment—a Day of the Lord! 

The young men had countered, “Everybody sins. But aren’t most people good? Do you really think that God would condemn this whole city? Won’t most people be saved?” 

He continued about the holiness of God. They needed to know God’s character and His message. 

“We don’t like your holier-than-thou attitude!” one of them exclaimed. That ended the conversation, besides they were too busy for this. There was work to be done and deadlines to meet. 

With the dawning of the next day, the older man made one more plea, but it fell on deaf ears. 

As they watched him walk away, one of them quipped, “I guess this is what we have to put up with when marrying into that family.” 

The other agreed, but noted, “Still, it looks like another beautiful day in Sodom!”  

P.S. The above dialogue is fiction, but consider reading Genesis 19:1-29, Ezekiel 16:49-50, 2 Peter 2:4-10.