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.

Wha-?

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 13: Yahweh M’Kaddesh

So set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am Yahweh M’Kaddesh.

Leviticus 20:7-8, name added

Yahweh M’Kaddesh: The Lord My Sanctifier (or The Lord who makes you Holy)

Leviticus 20 is a chapter full of warnings – warnings not to be like the other nations. Child sacrifice, temple prostitutes, adultery, mediums. This is just a summary of the things God forbids in this chapter. Be different, He pleads. Can you feel Him willing His people to make good choices? Can you feel the power of His exhortation?

But what gives us the power, the ability to make the wise, healthy choices God exhorts in this chapter? Yahweh M’Kaddesh. Being in relationship with Him, the One who never puts a foot wrong, clarifies the right path before us. We lean on His strength, His confidence. We lean on Him, and He makes us holy because HE is holy.

Thought seed – Whose company do I keep the most? How am I becoming like that person, and how would keeping God’s company most change me?

Day 12: El Qanna

You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous [El Qanna], is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.

Exodus 34:14 (NLT), name added

El Qanna: Jealous God

The gods people worship today don’t have faces like they used to, but the more I learn about the gods of ancient nations, the more familiar they seem. People worshipped their gods to gain power, wealth, and pleasure; gods of war and gods of harvest and gods of fertility – all the things people still seek after today. We think that because these gods no longer have faces – are abstract, invisible – they are not gods. But has our own God not shown us that something does not have to be seen to be real?

Though we don’t call them by their names, the ancient gods have never really left us. We as human beings still fall into their worship today. They are all the things that pull our eyes away from the one true God, El Qanna, who is jealous for our gaze. His jealousy is the kind that seeks not only His own good, but ours as well. Those other gods decay, and they destroy us. He does not.

Thought seed: What is God jealous of in my life?

Day 8: Yahweh Yireh

Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son.  Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Genesis 22:13-14

God promised Abraham a whole nation of heirs long before he had even a single son. When God gave him Isaac, unbelievable Isaac, that was the end of it, right? The promise fulfilled, Abraham’s faith proved, everyone living happily ever after.

No, not quite. Too many people forget God the moment they get what they want from Him. Would Abraham? I think just to show us (and maybe Abraham himself) what this man’s faith was made of, God tested him. He asked for Isaac back. The thing – the one thing – Abraham had wanted more than any other, the one thing that had made him happier than anything else in all the world, God asked for back.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

God did not demand. He did not take, though He could have in a blink. He asked. All of the hope, all of the joy, all of the peace Abraham had felt since Isaac arrived – it would have made him sick, wholly and completely heartsick, to give up that son.

And what does Abraham do?

He doesn’t miss a beat. Isaac asks where the sacrifice is, and he says God will provide it. What he likely means is that God has provided it already – God gave him Isaac, and God asked for Isaac as a sacrifice.

Would you give back to God all that He has provided for you? ALL of it?

And then, in the moment of obedience, God stopped Abraham’s obeying hand (and Abraham obeyed again, probably a lot more easily this time!). God provided a ram instead. God praised him and blessed him for his obedience, and said, “THIS is why, Abraham. This is why the world is blessed through you.” Not because of his wealth, not because of his perfect parenting, not because of his moral compass, but because of his obedient faith. Because he would give back to God everything he had asked God to give to him. He trusted Him that much.

Abraham knew. Abraham had seen God take two bodies as good as dead and create a child from them. He had seen a miracle before, and he had not forgotten that GOD provides. And in that last possible second before he did the unthinkable, before he harmed his son and his own heart beyond human repair, God provided again.

Because that is who He is. It is His name, Yahweh Yireh. The God who provides. ❤

Thought seed: Do I trust God to provide again, even after He has already provided before? Or do I think I’ve reached the limit of His provision?

Day 7: El-Olam

After making their covenant at Beersheba, Abimelech left with Phicol, the commander of his army, and they returned home to the land of the Philistines. Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he worshiped the Lord, [El-Olam].

Genesis 21:33-34

El-Olam: The Everlasting (or Eternal) God

It is one of the hardest lessons of our early lives, one I have repeated to my daughters at every broken toy, at the ending of every playdate, at the ruining of a favorite dress, at the death of a beloved dog, at the end of all the things they love that can’t go on forever: nothing lasts forever. This world was made a temporal and therefore temporary thing; all things fade, wear out, break, die.

Except.

There is one thing in this world, the only thing, we can love that will never fade, wear out, break, or die, and I tell my kids this too. The only everylasting, El-Olam, the everlasting God. The only Love we will ever have that will not end bereft.

I’m sure my kids think I’m crazy now, or dramatic, now when the world to them is so new and fresh and death is so far away it hardly seems real. But one day, perhaps they will remember. Nothing lasts forever, except.

Abraham knew this. By this part of his story, Abraham was an old, old man and had his promised son. But God had not ended there. The Lord had defended Him time and time again, including in this recent treaty of Beersheba, and granted him favor for his faith. His life was a story almost at its ending, and its “about” was growing clear: his life was a story about how who matters more than do. His faith was in Yahweh Elohim, Adonai, El Elyon, El Roi, the God he now knew by many names. The God who, throughout his whole life, never went away, but showed Himself present and active over and over again. The God who lasted though nothing else did; the everlasting God. And so he added a knew name that only a very old man can really know: El-Olam. The Everlasting God.

Nothing lasts forever except El-Olam.

Day 6: El Shaddai

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty.’ Serve me faithfully and live a blameless life.

Genesis 17:1 (NLT)

El Shaddai: God Almighty, All-Sufficient One

This is it. The moment God makes His covenant with Abram –> Abraham. The moment a 99-year-old childless man is promised a whole nation of heirs. The promise that made his wife laugh at its absurdity, and if we’re honest would have made most of us laugh too, but God fulfilled it. Because He is El Shaddai. He named Himself the Able One – the Able-to-do-Anything Almighty One – just a moment before He promised something no one else could promise. That deserves reiteration. Before He made the one of the most unbelievable covenants in history, God first said, “I can do anything.” He said so with His Name.

Thought seed: What can only El Shaddai accomplish in your life?

Day 5: El-roi

Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the LORD, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are [El-roi].” She also said, “Have I truly seen [El-roi]?”

Genesis 16:13

El-roi: The God Who Sees Me

Hagar was a truly pitiable creature. She was a servant, given by her mistress to her mistress’s husband as an old-fashioned surrogate, of sorts. She had no choice and no hope; no choice to love, no choice to marry, no hope for a family of her own. Once she bore Abraham’s child, no one else would dare take her. Her dreams were usurped by someone else’s.

For a moment, though, she had power; for a moment, she was the woman who conceived when her mistress could not, proof that it was Sarai’s womb and not Abraham’s seed that was the reason they had no children. Sarai would have been considered cursed; she, blessed. Did she allow that thought to take hold in her mind? Is that why Sarai complained about her to Abraham, saying she had grown haughty and rebellious toward her mistress? Perhaps; though perhaps Sarai’s own sense of failure influenced her perceptions, too. Then again, maybe not. Maybe Hagar did step out of line. But did she deserve the full vent of Sarai’s wrath that she received for it? Unlikely. The Bible does not cover up Sarai’s harshness or try to justify it; there is jealousy here, fueling this rage. Jealousy that was not in the least Hagar’s fault.

But God is far from blind. Sarai was cruel, but God was kind. It was to Hagar He came, to her He spoke, to her He promised. Though to some extent she may have brought it on herself; though she was an Egyptian; though merely a servant in the chosen house; though her son was not the promised son, it was her God saw.

Never have I ever been invisible to God. <repeat>

There has been no darkness in my life His eyes did not penetrate, not even the kind I made myself. He is El-roi. He is the God Who Sees Me.

Day 4: Adonai

But Abram replied, “O [Adonai], what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son? Since you’ve given me no children, Eliezer of Damascus, a servant in my household, will inherit all my wealth.”

Genesis 15:2

Adonai: Lord, Master

Adonai. The name used instead of the Name. Jews frequently replace the Name of God – Yahweh – with Adonai when they come to it in the Scriptures. Adonai means lord or master, a token of deference and respect. Here Abram uses them both. ❤

“You’re the Boss, God,” Abraham says, right from the start. Abram had a complaint – but first, before he made it, he made sure to declare that whatever God decided, he would abide by. This was not a petty, spoiled Abram demanding more of a God who’d poured out blessing after blessing. This was Abram asking God for the one thing that was on his heart more than any other thing: a child. It was him saying, “God, I don’t want more things. What I really want is someone to love with them.” But if God still said no – He was Boss. (But, of course, this Boss is the One who gives good things to those who ask for them!)

Food for thought: Is God the Boss of my household? Is He the Boss of my life? Do I say, when I pray, “God, You’re the Boss?” and then follow through with obedience?

Day 3: El Elyon

And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of [El Elyon], brought Abram some bread and wine. Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing: “Blessed be Abram by [El Elyon], Creator of heaven and earth. And blessed be [El Elyon], who has defeated your enemies for you.”

And Abram replied to the king of Sodom, “I solemnly swear to the LORD, [El Elyon], Creator of heaven and earth, …”

Genesis 14:18-20, 22

El Elyon: The Most High God

Day 6: El Shaddai

Melchizedek is one of the more nebulous and fascinating characters in the Bible. He is mentioned so briefly as “the king of Salem,” and we know Salem means peace. He is “a priest of God Most High,” El Elyon. If he uses a different name for God, then how do we know his God was the same as ours? But Abram knew. El Elyon – Abram uses it too, beside God’s other name – The Name. Who is this man, and where did he come from? How did he know God? What was his relationship with the Lord like? And how did this man, mentioned so briefly in Genesis, become a whole order of priests-by-faith ordained by God rather than man or heredity?

I gave up my need to have all the answers a long time ago, so I won’t endeavor to answer what I do not know.

But this truth is here, plain-faced in Scripture: Melchizedek, whoever he was, wherever he came from, whatever he did next, loved the same God Abraham did, the same God who sent Jesus, Messiah, the same God we love today. He called Him El Elyon, the Most High God. The Best God, maybe. The Most Important God. The Ultimate God. The true God.

The God of all who seek Him.