God's Hornet

“I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you.” Exodus 23:28

God goes before his people. This comfortable theme appears here and there in Scripture and finds its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ who went before us into death and glory. In our text God promises to go before the children of Israel into the land. He presents his promise in the figure of hornets.

If the mention of that insect doesn’t leave you with any distinct impression, the prior verse spells out exactly what God means by it: “I will send my terror before you” (v. 27). That is God’s idea of hornets; it seems also the reason why he didn’t make them three feet in length! Our glorious Creator fashioned hornets to be aerial emissaries of terror. A personal bodyguard of them (at their current size!) would be a formidable asset to any man.

What adds wonder to wonder is that God not only presents his promise under this figure; he presents himself under it. It’s his terror. It is himself, or more properly speaking, his Son, who goes before. Verse 23 says, in parallel, “When my angel goes before you…” The Angel of the LORD is a divine messenger both distinct from the LORD and identified with him (v. 20-21). He’s the Hornet of God.

Christ goes before us in this way. We are called to take this land of Canaan, this spiritual life, and he sends our foes into dismay before us. He has already gone ahead of us into death and judgement, and into resurrection and life forevermore. He has terrorized both our sin and the devil, destroying death’s sting by stinging death to death. He has ascended to the right hand of Power, where he ministers as our forerunner and breaks the power of sin in our lives today. When we follow him, he’s with us, and wars before us. He swarms and overwhelms our spiritual foes. Let’s be mindful of his glorious, terrible presence and all his helps for us today.

Of haters and holiness

“If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying down under its burden, you shall refrain from leaving him with it; you shall rescue it with him.” Exodus 23:5

Interpersonal conflict is where our godliness is really put to the test. Easily may we wax eloquent on the glorious doctrines of Scripture (and may God help us to do so more); readily may we tell others about Jesus (and may God strengthen us to do so all the more urgently). But real-life holiness is Jesus and his truth implemented in the midst of ordinary, every-day life.

Moses mentions one such ordinary relation as “one who hates you,” in other words, a hater. This is an infamous kind of relation, and the most of us fancy ourselves as having an army of them in our lives. (More likely is the sage utterance popularly attributed to Winston Churchill, “When you’re 20 you care what everybody things, when you’re 40 you stop caring what everyone thinks, when you’re 60 you realize no one was ever thinking about you in the first place.)

If we see the hater in everyone, perhaps the hater lies within. Nietzsche may help us here: “And if thou gaze long into the hater, the hater will also gaze into thee.” Above all, let God’s people be sure they aren’t smelling their own breath when they offer others a mint. And if haters be real, the text keeps us sober, for Moses speaks of “one” who hates you. A pack of haters rarely follows a man.

With that said, personal conflict is a reality in the Christian life, and the testing grounds of our spiritual maturity. We will pray for those who have wronged us, but helping them jumpstart their car, well that’s just a bit too far. In that case, we have not yet begun to love our enemies. Sin tells us to rejoice in their suffering; Christ calls us to help them, even in very practical ways. And this commandment is not burdensome. Have we forgotten that he loved us, his haters, and died under our sin-burden?

Who God really is

“In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” Exodus 20:24

An interesting verse, in an interesting context. Before God directed the children of Israel to build the tabernacle he gave them guidelines for making altars (v 22-26). Here, worship was accepted by him and blessed by him to the worshipper.

To remember God’s name means more than knowing how to pronounce it—many can do such things. To remember God’s name is to know what his name means. In other words, it is to know God. His name is who he is, in all his glorious attributes. It is to know him both truly, by knowing him rightly, and personally, by trusting and walking with him.

And so God promised to be remembered by the people throughout their generations, and to bless them accordingly. He did this at altars, many altars of long history (they are the “every place” he speaks of). But they were all leading somewhere, moving toward some goal, some ultimate, God-revealing, sinner-blessing sacrifice. That sacrifice was Jesus Christ. That altar of earth was the hill Golgotha, where the living God shows us who he is. John Owen speaks of this divine revelation in terms of wisdom.

As he is crucified, so he is the wisdom of God; that is, all that wisdom which God layeth forth for the discovery and manifestation of himself, and for the saving of sinners, which makes foolish all the wisdom of the world,—that is all in Christ crucified; held out in him, by him, and to be obtained only from him.

The cross is the place where God has caused his name to be remembered beyond all span of time. It shows the world who God really is. It is also the place of blessing for sinners. Christ was rejected in our place that we might be embraced by God; he was cursed in our place that we might be blessed by God. Here is blessing, not just for conversion, but for ever and ever. For here is your God who smiles upon you.

Hit the ground running

The hardest part of my day is springing out of bed the moment the alarm touches God’s anointed. I’ve found that a few preparations in the evening can help promote a punctual rising from the dead on the morrow. Anything for the edge!

There exists a connection between hitting the ground running and what we mortals call “a good day.” As my waking moments go, thither goeth my day. The momentum of a swift auroral resurrection propels me forward, while a failure to rise first thing can be a strange sort of lasting discouragement.

But, while this may be true in its own way, it is not ultimate truth. My day is not decided by psychological sleight of hand. We may feel these matters, and they may be quite useful to us in the natural course of things, but grace reigns in my life by the finished work of Someone else.

Our spiritual momentum is set and maintained by Christ. He awakened us in a split second of great power and set our feet immediately on the path of life, while his righteousness placed us once for all ahead of the game. So, wherever I am in my day, I can hit the ground running, for Christ.

A brief lesson in biblical meaning

As you read the following paragraph, ask yourself the question: Who is being spoken of?

He was the favored son, given revelation of his high destiny by God, yet hated by his jealous brothers. They plotted his death and handed him over to the Gentiles. Yet his brothers’ evil act, God meant for good, to send him ahead of them, to save them. Through his sufferings he rose to the very right hand of power, receiving the seal of the kingdom as all were commanded to bow the knee before him. He stored up bread and all the earth streamed to him for life, which could be found nowhere else. And the people offered their ends and lands and possessions to him, and their very own selves to his service, crying out, “You have saved us!”

Now, who am I talking about?

I’m talking about Joseph. But (let the reader understand) when we’re talking about Joseph, we’re also talking about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of movies and meditation

I started reading the Old Testament last week. My present goal (though it grinds against my mental nature) is to rapidly traverse the sacred ground, rather than meditating my way from point to wondrous point. But, as one might reasonably expect, the holy striving has not been without unexpected benefit. Exercising myself in this fashion has made me think of movies and of meditation.

Movies are popular. Who, besides the staunchest of self-professed Puritans, is unable to appreciate a truly good film? We are wired for stories, and movies are a wonderful and legitimate medium for the telling of a tale. Why do we love movies so much? Because we can see the fury of battle and the faces of friend and foe. We can hear the words, the weeping, and the laughter. We can memorize the lines and employ them humorously in apt moments! Movies afford us the luxury to kick back and let the storyteller paint the motion picture for us. And movies, really good movies, give us plenty to think about.

While good in itself, the art of film should function as a treat, a dessert in our lives. It is not the main course. Why? Because film is a shadow of the real film, the (do pardon me) reel story: God’s story. In other words, reading the Bible should be, at times, like watching a movie. If you’ve never experienced that, I daresay you’ve never really read the Book.

The long and fascinating narratives of Scripture are the epic movies of God’s universe. If we, by prayer and perseverance, will press forward in reading the large sweeps of Scripture, I do believe we will find our minds more captivated than they have ever been during the most engaging of movies. So put aside the devices, open God’s story, and watch. It will be both pleasure and profit to your soul, and living food for eternal thought.

You ain't got the answers Sway

It was an iconic (and very memeable) internet moment. Kanye West raged at Sway on the Wake Up Show. Some may respond that Kanye did not have the answers, either! Others may look to those they believe do have the answers, such as various noble pagans like Jordan Peterson or Elon Musk. And they would invariably do so by way of technology.

The interconnectivity of our digital age is a wonder of the world. We are (or so we like to think) on the cutting edge of information as new breaks from around the world and streams into the palms of our hands. But, putting the question of trustworthy news sources aside, how up-to-date are we really? How far does the knowledge of the world’s teachers extend? We may even, through digital news outlets and the remarkably intelligent, know what is happening right now, but what everyone wants to know is what will happen next and how to prepare for it. And that our digital wonderland cannot tell us.

The Bible is God’s word, which means that it is not only factually true, but it is divinely inspired. God speaks to us in the Bible. And God tells us what will happen in the Bible. God not only knows what will be; he is the one who will bring it about. He is the Teacher who was never taught. He knows our proper course, the paths of safety and of glory. He is the Wise One, at whose feet we may sit at will. If you love the idea of being connected, pick up your Bible and connect to this: GOD. Now that’s some real bleeding edge stuff.

What has the Shire to do with Jerusalem?

“There is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit, waiting for some final and desperate danger to make it grow.”‬ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

I’m making my second pass through the classic tales of Middle Earth and the One Ring (I will not tell you how many passes I’ve made through the movies). It’s been a good 6 years since I’ve been this way, and my ever-so-slightly older eyes are seeing new things everywhere. Good literature does this to us; the best Literature, the Bible, does this to us beyond measure. It (if you can bear with the comparison) is not unlike the One Ring, and seems to form itself to our exact size and grow with our years.

One thing is showing itself to me more plainly than ever: the hobbits are the true wonder of Middle Earth. ‪When we read Tolkien, we are quite taken with the strange races and even stranger characters of the wide world. But in the end we, like Tolkien, and like all his mighty characters, are most fascinated with hobbits. Their hidden courage is one such fascination to all the wise and wonderful of Middle Earth, but most of all to themselves.

We may even come to find no small measure of ourselves in them, which brings our quote into play. Courage lodges in the heart of believers. Ever so deep it lies hid, it’s there. God’s children, like hobbits, need strong circumstance to draw it forth. We hear of the martyrs with awe, and wonder if they were really men of like passions with ourselves. For they seem to be elevated, having powers we don’t. We’ve fallen into a common error, one which Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis wrote into his own novels (and not without characteristic pithiness): “Like many men of his own age, he rather underestimated than overestimated his own courage.”

The key to the martyr’s courage is the very same that unlocks our own. The martyrs were ordinary folks like you and I who were called by God into extraordinary times. His power upon their lives rose in step with their need of it. Rest assured, if some great trial or suffering comes upon the lowliest of God’s sheep, they will find a lion’s roar within themselves more than meet to the task. Impossible times will, under God, produce more spiritual bravery than we ever dreamed ourselves capable of. For it is he who trains our hands for war.

What has the Shire to do with Jerusalem? Very much, it would seem.

Strange fruit

“On the willows there we hung up our lyres.” Psalm 137:2

Sorrow, oppression, injustice … these are constant themes of human history. What people group has not encountered them in their chronicles? He who saw the tears of the oppressed said, “If you see in the province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter” (Eccl. 5:8). Such is the way of fallen mankind.

One such horrid spectacle of oppression was immortalized by singer Billie Holiday in her haunting song Strange Fruit. She was not the first to hit the note, for there are ancient songs of our Lord hanging from a tree. The psalm before us sings anticipations of this great, eschatological hanging.

The children of Israel found themselves far away from home, under the iron oppression of Babylon in the height of its power. And this too had produced a sort of strange fruit, harps hanging on trees. The willow is a peculiar plant, and lends itself to this idea, for it is popularly called the weeping willow. It sings a sad song by nature, and produces neither fruit nor fragrance. A fitting platform for the silenced instruments of Jerusalem’s singers. The picture is of absolute loss and great longing. In a word, it is exile.

It was our Lord himself, heaven’s very song of joy, who hung upon a strange tree in this Babylon world. He was exiled from God’s favor in our place, that we might find a home with him forever in true Zion. If we pass through strange lands on our way there—and certainly we must—let us keep this song on our lips as we go, the song of the Lamb and his great love for the lost children of God.

We wish to see Jesus

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” John 12:21

Christians tend to err into camps—the thinkers on one side, and the feelers on the other. But knowing God calls for both. We must be able to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” That is doctrine. And yet, doctrine is not to be simply conceived of, but experienced by the believer. This is precisely what it means to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa. 34:8). This inspired expression is a perfect specimen of the two in perfect harmony: experience (taste and see) and doctrine (the Lord is good).

Here at last, in our text, is the right emphasis, Jesus. For he himself is the great equipoise, encompassing all good things in himself, and each in its proper measure. His glorious Person is that which brings them into their divinely-intended balance. When all things in heaven and earth were united in Christ, we think that doctrine and experience were among the subjects of his cosmic peacemaking.

We may safely gauge our spiritual health by our appetite for Jesus. Some knowledge of our great spiritual privileges should whet our hearts in this direction. We are the envy of believing world history, for we know him who was all the desire of the believers who lived and died before his coming. The fact that we know Jesus by name and as having already accomplished his work is that which gives us the fullness of joy our forebears sought. The Lord himself spoke quite plainly to the matter,

But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Matt. 13:16-17).

Peter applies it directly to the prophets,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (1 Pet. 1:10-11).

We are in constant peril of taking our privilege for granted. Against this we must be always on guard. We are becoming worldly if we seek mere propositional notion on the one extreme, or mere personal emotion on the other. Our desires are ordered rightly when we want, above all things and in all things and through all things, to see Jesus as he really is. And when people start asking to see Jesus, we may be sure that the Spirit is working and God is getting glory.