Sunday, 21 December 2014

Our assumptions about God's will



     In Genesis chapter 12, God calls Abraham to leave his family’s home and go to a land that God will show him. God also promises to make him a great nation that will bring blessing to the whole word. This promise to Abraham is a thread you can follow all through the Old Testament. You can follow it as the promise is passed on through the patriarchs. You can watch Abraham’s descendants grow and become a nation in Egypt until they are persecuted under Pharaoh, which is when God steps in with Moses. At that point they have become a nation, so that part of the promise has been fulfilled, but then they still need to get to the land that was promised to Abraham. They enter the land under the leadership of Joshua and they start the long process of occupying the land (which sounds pretty aggressive, but the alternative was to go back into the dessert). There was the time of the Judges where they fought skirmishes and at other times they coexisted peacefully with the peoples already in the land. Finally after many years, under the leadership of King David the whole land is unified. He finally conquers Jerusalem, which seemed to be unconquerable, and makes it his new capital. It is the beginning of a time of peace. It seems like the next promise to Abraham has been fulfilled. They are a nation, and now they have procession of the land God promised Abraham.
            No doubt David is filled with pride and accomplishment. And now in this time of stability and peace that he has won for his people David looks to do something for God by proposing to build a temple for God. The Ark of the Covenant is the throne of God on earth and it has been travelling about in a tent since the time of Moses. To David it doesn’t seem right for him to live in a palace while the Ark of God is in a tent.
But, David might have had other reasons for wanting to build the temple. In the 4th century the Roman Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople. Many columns, doors, tiles, statues and art were taken from the temples of the empire and used to decorate the new capital. These building projects were a political move on his part to establish his new capital. David might be doing the same thing. We don’t really know what his motive was, but it would be completely natural for him to have mixed motives.
The idea made sense. The new capital needed to establish itself as a place of political power. But it also made sense from a devotional standpoint to want to honour God by building a place of honour for Him. Part of the problem though was that David made a huge assumption. It made such logical sense to him that he just assumed that God would support the idea. David decided for God, then let Nathan the prophet know about the plans. The usual order of things was for God to tell Nathan God’s plans, then the prophet goes and informs the king of what God has in mind. In this temple building episode it is completely reversed, David tells the prophet, and they both assume it makes such logical sense that they assume God must be for it.
I think we can probably act in similar ways as well. Something might seem like it makes such logical sense that we don’t take the time to take our plans to God. So we might have great logical plans about a new job, or a new house, and it is so logical we just don’t even check with God. Sometimes our love for God might lead us to want to do something extravagant for Him, but we still don’t take those plans to God. So in our love for God we might just want to trop everything and go as a missionary of love into the slums of Calcutta, but we don’t actually check those plans with God.  We can sometimes make too many assumptions about what we think God wants us to do.  We read in Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The word of God comes to Nathan in the night. God says, 
“Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the LORD: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” Notice God doesn’t say, “Go and tell the king”. 
He says “my servant”, which is intimate, but it also reminds David of his place. God continues, 
“I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” 
God questions David’s assumption that a temple should even be build. He never asked for it. As God speaks you can almost hear that He likes the mobility of the tent because He can “move about among all the people of Israel”. Having a temple in a stable place might even start to seem like they are controlling God to bless the new capital, so it would assure God’s protection. God is not into being controlled and put into a box.
Now God reminds David of who he is and who has given peace in the land- 
I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies.” 
God reminds David that all of this is because of God. David was just a shepherd boy and the runt of his family. All this is God’s doing. The land and the peace is all because of God, not David’s skill.
And then God turns the tables on David. David wants to build a temple, or a “house” for God, but the prophet says, 
The LORD will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” 
David is promised an everlasting dynasty.

 One of the lessons here is to continuously seek an attitude of humility. We should be very careful of thinking we can speak for God. We should be especially careful when we feel most confident in God’s will on a matter. We should be careful when we feel sure of God’s plans. Over and over again God confuses human expectations. God often surprises the faithful. God catches us by surprise.
David’s son, Solomon, eventually did built a temple for God in Jerusalem. But, after 400 years David’s monarchy fell. There were prophecies about a messiah who would be a “Son of David”. And of course God’s people assumed they knew exactly what that meant. This son of David would be a great military leader who will lead a rebellion against Rome and reestablish the monarchy in Jerusalem and rule over a unified Israel- Just like David did. It made logical sense, but once again God doesn’t meet their expectations. Jesus is part of the lineage, or the house, of David. But God has set His sights higher than his messiah being a mere military leader to grant independence to the land of Israel. His messiah is to have a world-wide effect. In the beginning of the Gospel according to John we read the “Word became flesh and lived among us” but a more literal translation would be “God tented among us”, or “God tabernacle among us”. The tent of the Ark was probably made of animal skins and woven rugs. God once again moved into a tent made of skin to move among His people in a unique way. God tented among us as a human child.
With a tent comes a certain vulnerability. If you have ever gone camping and heard a large animal in the woods beside you, then you know how vulnerable you can feel in a tent. Tents are torn by the wind. God came to be vulnerable, and to endure the wind as one of us. He came to move among us as one of us- to sleep where we sleep, and eat with us. God’s tenting in this way was not expected. No one thought this was who the messiah was going to be.

So may God Confound your expectations this Christmas. May you realize your vision is too small. May you be humbled in your understanding of God’s will. May God meet you in ways you don’t expect. And may you be blessed because of it.    

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the reminder that God's way are different and better than mine and to remember to look for the unexpected.

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