Flood Stage

Meditation on Joshua 3 and 4, the Israelites crossing the Jordan

Think this with me:

I am an Israelite coming out of 40 years in the desert. I have eaten nothing but manna – for forty years. I have slept in a tent. I have woken up every morning and not known if I would sleep in the same place again that night. For forty – years.

But now I am in the Promised Land. I can see it! I look over the banks of the Jordan, and I see it. It is beautiful; forty years in the desert was a dream. When I enter it, I can build something solid, something permanent. I can grow something rooted to the earth and be there to harvest it. I can raise whole flocks of sheep and herds of cattle and not worry there will be too little grazing. I can feast on the abundance the land allows. It is beautiful; it was worth the wait!

There is only one problem: the Jordan is in flood stage, and I am on the wrong side.

This is a feeling I don’t have to imagine. My life is in flood stage, and I am on the wrong side. Emergencies and tragedies and problems and struggles fly down the course of my days, slamming one into another and pushing each other faster and faster along until white peaks form above and a powerful force rips everything along with it below. The water is icy cold; it comes from the melting snow high up in the mountains, melting because the winter is over, melting because it is finally that blessed, warm spring we could not wait for. And now it is in our way. In flood stage.

I look across it, and I am overwhelmed. I weep because I can see the Promised Land, but I do not have the power to cross into it. I weep because I am certain I will be destroyed if I try.

Let the ark of the covenant go before you.

I am an Israelite, and Joshua’s command is absurd. He says we will cross the Jordan on dry ground because God will stand the waters up in a heap, flood stage waters, and all we must do is follow. The ark of God’s covenant goes before us; all we must do is follow. It is ludicrous. But I obey it.

I look across my own life’s flood and I see I have been trying to cross a raging flood on my own, and that is absurd – truly, completely, fully absurd. I will wait for the sign that God will go before me; I will look for His ark, and I will follow it. I will walk across the flood on dry ground; I will see, a long way off, the waters stand up in a heap, and I will know I had nothing to do with it. The moment we are through it, when the covenant comes and closes the gap behind us, the flood will return. But we will be on the right side of it: the Promised Land.

The Narrow Gate: The Courageous Obedience of “the Servants”

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7: 13-14

“The Fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” Proverbs 19:23

“For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.” John 12:49-50

“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys My word will never see death.” John 8:51

“They did so.” John 2:8b

From John 2

They aren’t even named. “Servants,” it calls them; for eternity, they will only be known as “the servants.” We brush by them when we read the story as we do the bag boy and walker #3. Sometimes, the most beautiful, the most profound, the most extraordinary acts – are so small and quiet we don’t even see them.

Recently, a teacher taught me to see them, the servants. I am so moved by them, and the extraordinary thing they did – “so.” They did “so.” Who knew how much one little word could convict me, change me, grow me – such is the power of Scripture, no?

But before we can discuss what they did – “so” – the stage must be set. Back to the beginning: Jesus. Jesus had been born in some remarkable circumstances, and a moment or two in his childhood had also made folks around him turn their heads and wonder. But after that? Well, Scripture is awfully quiet about Him for a long time. He seems to have begun living a perfectly ordinary, quiet life.

Until. One day, when he was thirty, he went out and began gathering some men, the way rabbis gathered pupils. His were very odd – fishermen, rebels, cynics, even a tax collector – but he picked them so carefully, it almost seemed he knew something about them no one else could see. Then, he went home.

Yep. That is where John 2 begins. See, Jesus and his disciples had been invited to a wedding. It seems his mother was very well acquainted with whomever was hosting the wedding – either that or she was just bossy, because she was ordering their servants around. Some have speculated that perhaps this was a relative’s wedding; given the responsibility Mary seemed to have felt to make sure everyone had enough wine, this seems plausible, no? But the Bible doesn’t say whose wedding, just “a” wedding, and I suppose that’s because it doesn’t really matter – wouldn’t change the story much, now would it?

Anyway. So there he is, with twelve branny-spankin’ new (oddly assorted) disciples, at a wedding.

And they run out of wine.

This is a big deal. HUGE. <cue Indigo Montoya voice> Humiliation galore!

Now, folks have put two and two together and figured out Jesus is some kind of special…something. Prophet? Teacher? Something like that. But they don’t know much else.

They don’t know He can make the blind see.

They don’t know He can calm a storm with a command.

They don’t know He can feed a crowd of thousands with just a few loaves and fish.

They don’t know He can raise the dead.

He hasn’t done any of that yet.

But I’m sure he’s an awesome tradesman. And he was probably a nice enough guy, I’d guess.

That’s what they knew about him, these servants, when they did something absolutely crazy – because he said so.

Back to the story: they ran out of wine. At a wedding. Shame of all shame, they could not meet the needs of their guests! My bet is they were in the middle of drawing straws for who had to tell the master when Mary came in. “Do whatever he tells you,” she said to them.

And do you know what he told them to do? Fill up some jars. With water.

And by now, as a rational person, I’m thinking – ??? Okay, this is weird, but he seems to have a plan so we’ll go with it.

They do what he says and bring the water to him, probably wondering the whole time what it’s for.

And then he drops the bomb on them – “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

Oh, no, no, no, no, crazy man. The master may be a little tipsy, but he’ll know the difference between wine and WATER, all right?

But – here’s the part, the totally insane, completely and ridiculously stupid part – “they did so.” They DID it – they actually DID it!

And because they did it – because they listened to a perfectly ordinary man’s completely ludicrous advice – they got to know something no one else knew. Jesus could turn water into wine. (Good wine!)

The master of the banquet had no idea that what he was drinking had been water only a few minutes before. The party guests were just happy to have more to drink and didn’t care where it came from. But Bag Boy and Walker #3 – they got something way better than a good time. They saw a miracle. The first miracle.

“They did so.” Wow. You know, I find it really easy to brush off words like these, thinking to myself, well of course they did! It was Jesus. But they didn’t know that and I do, and yet “they did so” and too often I don’t. It’s terrifying, isn’t it? To do what God tells us to do. His directions are, frankly, ludicrous at times. Give the master a cup of water. A cup of WATER. Yeh. But they? They obeyed.

And that’s it, isn’t it. That’s the narrow road: obedience, wild, nonsensical, reckless obedience. Oh yes, that gate certainly is small.

Now, I’m not talking about just following the rules. Believe it or not, my dear, that is a wide, wide road. Many are the rule-followers who do not obey.


Oh yes. Here is an idea that has been steeping in my heart. I have been a rule follower all my life, and many times I have congratulated myself for being such, but God has never been fooled. See, I thought I followed the rules because I was somehow just better than everyone else; really, I was just afraid, afraid of authority, and I used the rules to hide. “No one will have any reason to look closely at me if I just follow the rules,” I thought in my heart. That’s what most rule-followers really are doing: hiding. Many Bible rule-followers are hiding from God. Like the Pharisees.

Like me.

“Give me the rules, and I will follow them!” I said to God. “No,” He said to me. “Come, follow Me.”

Here is the difference between obeying the rules and obeying God: the first avoids relationship, and the second depends on it. How can I obey someone I avoid? To obey the rules, I only need to know the rules; to obey God requires me to be in constant communication with Him so that I know His will in every circumstance, every decision, every moment. It requires trust like I can hardly believe – it requires me to take a cupful of water to a boss who told me to bring wine.  It is, entirely, a much harder thing to do – a much smaller door to enter through.

And yet, Bag Boy and Walker #3 – “They did so.” Maybe, just maybe, I can have that courage, too.

Day 60: Yahweh Shammah

“The distance around the entire city will be 6 miles. And from that day the name of the city will be [Yahweh Shammah].'”

Ezekiel 48:35

Yahweh Shammah: The LORD Is There

Ezekiel is a heavy book. It is full of a good, loving Father who wants only the best for them striving with his “stubborn and hard-hearted” children (Ezekiel 2:4). It’s a book of His lamenting the consequences they have brought on themselves by their disobedience, of His pleading with them to choose better, of the enormous emotions this Creator of ours must bear watching His children walk away from Him and toward their own destruction. By chapter 7, “No hope remains.” All that is left is for God’s children to experience what they have done to others because they’re just not getting it any other way… and He lets them.

But the book is far from over at the end of chapter 7. There are 41 more chapters! What more can there possibly be to tell of this horrifically painful, broken parent/child relationship? They drove their God away. Their God who, in His presence, is fullness of joy. Their God whose glory transforms everything it touches into its most full, healthy, joyful, glorious self! The God whose presence makes the difference between Heaven and Hell – because His presence itself is what we call Heaven. Heaven is a person more than a place – it is wherever He is. And they drove Him away. Do we really want to know what happens next? Do we want to hear about their hell?

But if you quit now, you’ll never know.

You’ll never know what it takes to make peace after a war.

You’ll never know that bones so dead they’re dry can spring back together…and grow flesh…and breathe again.

You’ll never know what was rebuilt after everything was destroyed.

And you’ll never know, that after all their cruelty, all their idolatry, after all the shame and pain it caused, after they wounded Him, angered Him, and shoved Him away… Yahweh Shammah. These are the very last words in the book, so you must read all the way to the end to know that – after all of it –

The Lord Is There.

Day 59: El Hannora

“And now, our God, the great and mighty and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of unfailing love, do not let all the hardships we have suffered seem insignificant to you.”

Nehemiah 9:32a

El Hannora: Awesome God

A definition of a word we have bleached pale by overuse:

awesome: (adj) extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.

Oxford Language

I love the book of Nehemiah. It is so charged with real emotion; so much of religion can be stoic, repetitive, ritualistic, voided of whatever feeling it once held by the burden it has now become. All the meaning of those rituals, all the value in their execution, is so often forgotten as other urgencies creep into our lives and usurp whatever time we had to remember. In the book of Nehemiah, though, the people were in the depths of memory, and just as much they were already stepping over the brink of the fulfillment of their greatest, most impossible dream for the future: return.

This declaration of God as the Awesome God was not a casual toss of a serious word as we are so use to hearing it. It comes pouring out of their memories of Israel’s repeated sins and God’s repeated (just) punishment; it comes pouring from their memories of crying out to God, their only hope, though they were the ones who had abandoned him, and finding his unexpected forgiveness waiting patiently for their call; it comes pouring out of their memories, recent and distant, of captivity, slavery, and yearning to own their own lives, and the surreal moment they now find themselves in, standing in the homeland they were never sure they would see again, worshipping the God they did not think would take them back, and relearning their identity as his people and – what is most – his identity as their God. And they are paralyzed, breathless at who they now see he is.

There is no word big enough to wrap around this God. So they choose the biggest word they have in hope it will convey enough for others to come and see for themselves, and fully share their awe: El Hannora, the Awesome God.

Day 58: Elohei Mikarov and Elohei Merachok

23 “Am I Elohei Mikarov” saith Hashem.
    “and not Elohei merachok?”

24 Can anyone hide from me in a secret place?
    Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?”
    says the Lord.

Jeremiah 23:23 (OJB) and 23:24 (NLT)

Elohei Mikarov: God Who is Near Elohei Merachok: God Who is Far Off

We have a word for this truth about God: “omnipresent,” we call Him, at once both near and far away. Elohei Mikarov and Elohei Merachok, He calls Him; His presence is so important, it is His name.

This idea was revolutionary in the age He first spoke it; the gods of other nations were territorial and only had power in their own domain, which often, funny enough, took the shape of the borders of the nations that served them. It was as if the only power they had was the power…people…gave them. Like children pretending a doll is a real baby, making crying sounds for it and holding plastic food up to plastic mouths, they paraded their puppet gods up and down their own land, but they could not make them actually come to life.

Sometimes God’s people would get confused and think they could put their God on strings, too, and pretend He would do whatever they wanted Him to do. In Jeremiah 23, He is furious. He is furious because would-be “prophets” have been claiming their own words were His, their own ideas His, their own dreams His. They stole His authority to lend power to their own thoughts, and He, the Living God, says to them, “You know I see you, right?”

We would all be wise to remember Elohei Mikarov is Elohei Merachok, and Elohei Merachok is Elohei Mikarov. This God of ours has no strings to hold Him down. We do not control Him with our prayers, our thoughts are not His thoughts, and He speaks for Himself.

Our God is not a doll. He is Elohei Mikarov. He is Elohei Merachok. He is God, near and far.

Day 57: Yahweh Tsidkenu

“For the time is coming,”

    says the Lord,

“when I will raise up a righteous descendant[a]

    from King David’s line.

He will be a King who rules with wisdom.

    He will do what is just and right throughout the land.

And this will be his name:

    “[Yahweh Tsidkenu].”[b]

In that day Judah will be saved,

    and Israel will live in safety.”

Jeremiah 23:5-6

 But you are of Hashem in Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach Yehoshua who became to us chochmah (wisdom) from Hashem, our Tzidkanut (Righteousness) and our Kedushah (Holiness) and our Geulah LaOlam (Redemption to the world), [Jer 23:5,633:16]”

1 Corinthians 1:30, Orthodox Jewish Bible, emphasis added

Yahweh Tsidkenu: The LORD Our Righteousness

It’s funny how the connotations of words change over time. In the NIV version of the Bible published something like 30+ years ago now, the word righteousness is all over the place, but in the New Living Translation (NLT) publishes just a decade letter, that word has nearly disappeared. It has been replaced with “right with God” in almost all appearances in the New Testament, including in the 1 Corinthians reference above. It means the same thing, right? Except that righteousness is a more concise and expedient way to say what we mean. So what about this word – “righteousness” – has grown so distasteful that we sought a way to speak around it?

The problem is how many have confused the source – how many Christians began to call themselves “righteous” to distinguish themselves from “sinners” and forgot which name their own actions had earned them. Where self-righteousness tries to claim the name of true righteousness – Christ-righteousness – it smears the name and confuses the Message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who fear God do not dare take credit for His actions as the self-righteous do. So language changes to provide distinction (we are not the same as they), and innocent and accurate words are lost to misuse.

I would by lying if I said the snares of self-righteousness had never trapped me, and that is why this name of God frees and settles my tumultuous heart. See, self-righteousness is death on my own sword; I may claim the credit for God’s actions once, but as I cannot reproduce them, I become ever more frantic and desperate in my attempts to maintain the reputation I stole, like a lip-syncer asked to perform a cappella with no sound equipment. The pressure will break me, my lies will be exposed, and I will lose control and fall on top of the sword I stole because it is too big for me to wield alone. By calling God by His Own Name, by giving it to the One to Whom it Belongs – Yahweh Tsidkenu, The LORD is my righteousness – I lift the pressure to perform beyond my abilities, and rest on His great ability instead. There is such freedom in giving credit where it is due!

This, then, is the pure, whole truth: The time that was coming is come. God has done what He promised; He has given us the king who rules with wisdom and does what is just and right in all the land. His name is Yehoshua, Jesus, and He is my righteousness, the One who makes me right with God. I am a sinner; He is my righteousness. He is my Tsidkenu – Yahweh Tsidkenu.

Day 56: Yatsar

How briefly your holy people possessed your holy place,
    and now our enemies have destroyed it.
Sometimes it seems as though we never belonged to you,
    as though we had never been known as your people.

Isaiah 63:18-19

You welcome those who gladly do good,
    who follow godly ways.
But you have been very angry with us,
    for we are not godly.
We are constant sinners;
    how can people like us be saved?

Isaiah 64:5

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father.
    We are the clay, and you are [Yatsar].
    We all are formed by your hand.
Don’t be so angry with us, Lord.
    Please don’t remember our sins forever.
Look at us, we pray,
    and see that we are all your people.

Isaiah 64:8

The Lord says,

“I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help.
    I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me.
I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’
    to a nation that did not call on my name.

Isaiah 65:1

Isaiah 63 (raw honesty about how it feels), 64 (confession of sin), and 65 (God’s response) are worth another read today, all together, in full

Yatsar: The Potter

I don’t really know how to follow that. Do you feel it? Can you feel how truly abandoned each side feels? Do you feel the staggering weight of admitting we are in this situation of our own making; we are not godly, we are constant sinners, we cannot see a way we can be saved. We want someone, anyone else to be to blame. It’s almost like there is some solace in being an innocent victim, in having the ability to say, “I did nothing to deserve this,” but in being a sufferer of the consequences of our own stupid sin – of knowing we have broken our chances beyond repair, that we not only suffer this, but deserve it – even the barest whisper of solace cannot penetrate that despair.

And yet.

Our ending was never ours to make. We know: there is a way out, a way that will break us maybe every bit as much as our own destruction.

We must ask for what we do not deserve.

We must ask Yatsar, who has waited for us, called to us, waved His hands before our faces while we closed our eyes and ears – we must call now to Him, ask Him to help us, wait for His answer, and hope it is not the one we gave Him. And if He should ask – “Why should I?” – what would we say? Our only remaining merit is that He made us. Our only hope to say – “because broken as we are, we are Yours.”

He could punish us; that would be just. He could forgive us; that would be merciful. Through the chastening blood of the Lamb, though, Yatsar has molded an answer both just and merciful, both functional and beautiful, the way only a Master Potter can. ❤

Day 55: Yahweh Goelekh

Though you were once despised and hated,
    with no one traveling through you,
I will make you beautiful forever,
    a joy to all generations.
Powerful kings and mighty nations
    will satisfy your every need,
as though you were a child
    nursing at the breast of a queen.
You will know at last that I, [Yahweh],
    am your Savior and your [Goelekh],
    the Mighty One of Israel.[a]

Isaiah 60:15-16

Yahweh Goelekh: The LORD Our Redeemer

I don’t know if there’s a more beautiful idea in all the world than this one – redemption. The idea that something that was fit for nothing but the trash could be fixed, could be whole, could be “good as new.”

If I am an expert on anything, it is how easily things break. I prefer the term “undercoordinated” to clumsy, please and thanks. 🙂 I am reminded by my own hands every day how flimsy this world is, how easily broken, how passing. Very little of what I break is worth redeeming, worth fixing; in this modern world, it is quicker and cheaper and easier to just toss it in the trash and start over.

I wonder sometimes if it would be easier for God to just scrap us all and start over. Toss this fatally flawed batch of lemons in the trash and make the whole world over again. It’s no less than we deserve, and God is fully capable. So why doesn’t He?

The answer is always, always about Him. He doesn’t because that’s not who He is. He’s not the trasher, the scrapper, the thrower-awayer. He is the Redeemer. It is His very name. Our hope for our brokenness to be fixed has nothing to do with who we are or what we can do, and entirely to do with who He is and what He does.

He is Yahweh Goelekh. He is the Lord our Redeemer. And so we are not trashed. And so we are redeemed.

Day 54: Ish

For your Creator will be your [Ish];

    the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name!

He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel,

    the God of all the earth.

Isaiah 54:5

“Just as I swore in the time of Noah

    that I would never again let a flood cover the earth,

so now I swear

    that I will never again be angry and punish you.

For the mountains may move

    and the hills disappear,

but even then my faithful love for you will remain.

    My covenant of blessing will never be broken,”

    says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

Isaiah 54:9-10

Ish: Husband

There is something hush-inducing about a man in love. I find myself hardly breathing when I watch them, like some sort of majestic animal in the wild I don’t want to spook. Most of them would clamp down inside their shells if they knew how obvious their love is, but as long as they think no one is watching! I can’t help but think that this is the reason why the universe was created, why women were created, why God made a whole audience of angels in heaven to gasp from afar: to see what a breathtaking thing the pure, sincere love of a man can be.

And then He whispers the most incredible truth: “My love for you is like that, only more.”

Ish, the swooning husband of humanity whose love will not break though the world does, is yours. ❤

Day 53: Yahweh Moshiekh

Who can snatch the plunder of war from the hands of a warrior?

    Who can demand that a tyrant[d] let his captives go?

But the Lord says,

“The captives of warriors will be released,

    and the plunder of tyrants will be retrieved.

For I will fight those who fight you,

    and I will save your children.

I will feed your enemies with their own flesh.

    They will be drunk with rivers of their own blood.

All the world will know that I, the Lord,

    am [Yahweh Moshiekh] and your Redeemer,

    the Mighty One of Israel.[e]

Isaiah 49:24-26

Yahweh Moshiekh: The LORD Your Savior

“I will feed your enemies with their own flesh. They will be drunk with rivers of their own blood.” Well, that’s quite a vivid and violent picture, isn’t it?

Wasn’t I just saying in my last post that sometimes it can be hard to view God as El Tsaddik, the Righteous God? Wasn’t I just saying sometimes the brutality of this world is hard to reconcile with our own ideas of righteousness, with the kindness and love we believe of God?

Ah, so here we stand in one of those places, and we wonder how a good, righteous God could be so brutal.

But doesn’t He say why? “I will fight those who fight you. I will save your children.” Your children! Yahweh Moshiekh does not fight by His own desire or own His own behalf. He is not one of those souls who delight in the suffering of others. He does not destroy for pleasure. As a matter of fact, He destroys those who destroy for pleasure, those who would dare to destroy something as helpless as a child. And that is the difference. He is a Savior, not a psychopath.

He is Yahweh Moshiekh, who does not save halfway. When He rescues us, He does not let the evil escape to lurk behind another corner, to haunt us in our dreams, to terrorize us. The evil God destroys is utterly destroyed. Even if it is our own sin.