The Bible is a collection of some of the greatest and earliest stories in human history. Love stories, dramas, action-adventures, romantic comedy, war epics, soap operas–you name it and there’s something to fit your bill. Given our love of Story here at the Rabbit Room, I thought it would be fun to hear what
There is this strange story … actually it’s just a point within a story in Daniel that I find completely fascinating. Paul mentions that we don’t battle against flesh and blood and instead draws our attention to the spiritual battle taking place around us.
In the book of Daniel, there’s a quick mention of an angel coming to attend to Daniel and he says to him something along the lines of “I would have gotten here sooner, but it took me twenty-one days to get to you because a spiritual evil force over the kingdom of Persia withstood me…” I just find that completely profound and absolutely interesting.
The second story, and perhaps the one I can more readily make sense of and identify with (I wrote a song based on this on my 2001 album, Land of the Living) is the story, also starring Elisha, of the swimming iron in 2 Kings 6:1-7. In a congregationally-supported new sanctuary building campaign, several Hebrew men, having outgrown their current digs, meet at a point alongside the Jordan River and proceed to cut down some local trees from which they will begin construction of their new state-of-the-art, modern A/V, fully Power-Pointed, plush assembly hall. At one harried, hacking point, one of the tools suffers a manufacturer’s malfunction (made in China?), and the iron axehead falls off the wooden handle into the river below. Being made of iron, it, of course, sinks like a proverbial stone to the bottom of the murky creek. Being a poor man and having borrowed the tool in the first place, this gent probably suffers a bit of a conniption fit since he has no way of recompensing the man from whom he borrowed it. Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, get over it, one might say in today’s non-prophetic world, but not in those non-potable times; not when there were real live God-ordained prophets roaming the sand-laden streets, handing out basketfuls of deliverance and omens seemingly left and right. These scared gentlemen request that Elisha saunter over and help them solve the poor man’s dilemma. Elisha, as to be expected, obliges. He asks them to point out where, exactly, the axehead fell into the river. They point, he picks up a twig, tosses it onto the river at that spot, and, like a Cheerio in milk, the iron swims to the surface. All is well with the world.
Great thanks to Charles Spurgeon, I am vaguely able to make a little more sense of this OT snippet. At first glance, this appears to be a story of a miracle – a physical one. It is to my understanding that iron normally does not float on water. But I suspect that it is also the story of the underlying miracle that God – the same God of Elisha, Abraham, Moses, David, the father of Jesus – should daily care for the seemingly mundane, day-to-day occasions of our lives, that it is a miracle that ANYTHING should ever go right in this world, much less go wrong, and, to crown our oblong heads, that He finds us worthy of such mercy and attention. This is no small thing.
David brings him in and restores everything he lost to him, except one thing– his independence. David vows to treat Mephibosheth as one of his own sons, and sets a place at the King’s table for him– which means for every meal, Mephibosheth must be carried to his place in the Kingdom and sit at the table of the one who took him from his land of desolation and restored his reputation from being a shameful figitive to an adopted son of the King.
It is a hard and glorious picture of grace to be called by the One who holds all the cards and to have to remain in his presence when it would seem much easier if he would just give us independence from him so we could go and make something of ourselves. Part of Mephibosheth’s restoration is the requirement to live as a son of the King, not merely as his subject.
The way I see it, either Jonah wrote Jonah, or he told the story and it was written later. Either way, this makes Jonah pretty amazing. I want to be just like the guy who tells this story about himself, the way it is told in scripture. With no self-pity, no sugar coating, and no concern for his reputation, Jonah reveals the depth of his ingratitude and the fathomless depths of God’s mercy. His prayer at the beginning of Chapter 2 is astounding for its dichotomous combination of poetic prophecy and immature sincerity. When I read that prayer, I believe that Jonah has been healed of his selfish ways. Then, only one chapter later, Jonah is revealed to be just like me – full of contradictions.
Jonah is not afraid to question God, and God is patient with Jonah. And though Jonah’s personal story reveals God’s power, grace and mercy, there is a much bigger story being told that gives my own struggling journey of faith a proper context. God is always up to something much greater and more wonderful than we can imagine. And, since Jonah told this story sometime later, I draw encouragement from his transformation from a confused and self-centered prig into a selfless testifier of the Greatness of God. I love this book. I named my son Jonah Goodgame.
It’s an up and down story, the paradox of a strong God using our weak humanity to accomplish His purposes.
I’ve not heard many sermons on the divine use of sarcasm.
“…All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants. Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”
And so it goes with Jacob, he lies, he cheats, he steals and leaves in his wake a trail of broken and befuddled people. And yet God blesses him and continues to direct him surely down the path that was always set for him.
Much later, Jacob encounters the Angel of The Lord Himself, and has the gall to wrestle with him and demand to be blessed yet again. He is blessed with a new name and a wound he would carry in his walk for the rest of his days, this wild horse of a man broken at last.
It’s a mysterious story that has such a ring of truth to it because of how difficult it is to make a nice and tidy morality tale out of it. It reminds me that those who are broken and walk with more of a limp than a swagger have most likely met with God. It reminds me, too, that God’s will for my own life has less to do with my own virtues than I would like to think. That is both humbling and a relief.
However they knew each other, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon to face the music. But he did more than that. He wrote Philemon a letter on behalf of Onesimus. He said, in effect, “I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I’m sending Onesimus back to you, and I hope you’ll find it in your heart to receive him, not as a slave, but as a brother. Receive Onesimus as you would receive me. And if he has wronged you, charge it to my account.” Here is the gospel at work–making brothers out of slaves and slavemasters. We don’t think of there being a lot of narrative in Paul’s epistles, but this particular one seems like part of an epistolary novel. I’d love to know what happened when (or if) Onesimus got back to Colossae.