A good story
Judges 13: The angel of God appeared to her.—
The set up for the story of Samson begins with the visitation of an angel. Manoah’s wife (unnamed in the Bible) is minding her own business when the angel appears to inform her that she’s going to have a baby boy. The child is to be raised under a strict code including his partaking of no fruit of the vine or ever having his hair cut. While the Nazirite vow was introduced in Numbers 6 this is the first time we hear of anyone actually under that vow and his case is (obviously) extraordinary. Not only does his being under the Nazirite vow set up the unique “haircut” feature of the story of Samson there’s also the fact that in Samson’s case being a Nazirite is not so much a vow as it is a lifetime assignment. His faithfulness to this vow is such a big deal that the angel has arrived early to stop his mother from drinking or doing anything that would constitute a breaking of the vow while Samson is still in his mother’s womb! When Manoah asks the angel his name he’s told that it’s a name beyond his vocabulary and comprehension. Then, as a burnt offering is made, the angel suddenly blends into the flames and ascends heavenward. It’s all very impressive and fun to read and think about. In fact, that’s all I’m doing with this passage because I don’t have a compelling devotional point to make. Sometimes a good story is just a good story!
Take Away: Most of God’s people just live their lives without visions or miracles. When those things happen, though, we have a story worth repeating.
A visit to God’s throne
Ezekiel 10: Court and Temple were both filled with the blazing presence of the Glory of God.
Ezekiel encounters those “wheels within wheels” once again, this time as part of a glorious vision of God. Most of what I’d call the “personal” side of Ezekiel isn’t attractive to me. Under God’s direction he does some pretty strange stuff and some of it must have been downright painful. On the other side of the coin, though, are encounters like this one with the Glory of God. I’m not saying I can read his words and come away with an accurate understanding of it all. These are complex events and I’m sure I wouldn’t have done as good a job as he does in his attempt to describe his famous “wheels within wheels” or the sound of cherubim wings or the Voice like thunder or a sky-blue, sapphire colored throne. I can’t grasp it all and I can’t help but feel a little jealous (is it okay to be jealous of another man’s vision?) of Ezekiel’s moment in the presence of God. Still, I appreciate his allowing me to tag along as he encounters the Lord Almighty. Even though I know I’m like a blind man in the presence of a rainbow, I still get just a faint sense of it all. In this place I’m fearfully reverent and I know that there are depths to the Glory of God that I can’t hope to comprehend. I still can’t grasp it all but thanks to Ezekiel I know more than I would otherwise.
Take Away: There are depths to the Glory of the Lord that I can’t hope to comprehend.
The weeping prophet
Jeremiah 4: My insides are tearing me up.
If Jeremiah was a modern film maker this portion of his writings would be rated “R” for violence. In one disturbing scene after another he describes the utter destruction that’s coming. Adam Clarke says this is “imagery scarcely paralleled in the whole Bible.” Jeremiah’s not untouched by his own prophecy. We don’t know exactly how this word of the Lord came to him, but if it was in a dream, it was a nightmare and if it was a vision it was a very disturbing vision indeed. He reports “I’m doubled up with cramps in my belly — a poker burns in my gut.” I can’t say that Jeremiah is my favorite Hebrew prophet to read, but his humanity does draw me in. Jeremiah didn’t want to be God’s spokesman in the first place. However, he accepts the Lord’s appointment and his journey begins. When he sees the coming destruction he isn’t a disconnected reporter. Instead, he’s part of the story. As wave after wave of visions of destruction wash over him he’s sick to his stomach. He says to the Lord, “How long do I have to look at the warning flares, listen to the siren of danger?” All he wants is out of this. As a “proclaimer” of God’s Word in my generation I need some of his spirit. Otherwise, I (and other Christians) sound hard and hateful and am easily rejected by the very people who must hear the message. If I can interact with lost people without being moved by their plight something’s wrong with me and I need a spiritual transfusion from this “weeping prophet.”
Take Away: Judgment, when it must be preached, must be preached with tears in our eyes.
Isaiah 6: Holy, Holy, Holy is the God-of-the-Angel-Armies. His bright glory fills the whole earth.
Isaiah is already a prophet of God when he has his vision of the holiness of God. However, it’s that vision that fuels his ministry and transforms his relationship with God. He sees worship taking place in heaven, with heavenly beings shouting out the holiness of God. Everything’s impacted by that holiness: foundations trembling, billowing smoke…and a humbled prophet of God. So what does it mean for God to be “Holy, Holy, Holy”? While I think the triple statement of God’s being holy is intended to cause us to think of his holiness as being complete and not meant to give pastors the makings of three point sermons I do see three aspects of the holiness of God. First, his holiness is that of purity. God is untouched by sin and sin is absolutely foreign to his character. Second, his holiness is that of separateness. God isn’t humanity multiplied. There’s an “otherness” about him and while we’re created in his image, there is that about God which is forever beyond our understanding. Third, his holiness is that of transcendence. Even as the brightness of the sun both warms the earth, giving life, and at the same time is so powerful as to be frightening to us, so is God’s holiness both beautiful and at the same time awesome and untouchable by us. Had God not revealed his holiness to us we’d have zero chance of even dimly contemplating it. Isaiah doesn’t write an essay about his thoughts on God’s holiness. Rather, he has a God-given vision of it, and once he has that vision he’s never the same.
Take Away: A God who is holy, holy, holy should be worshiped and feared.