A Prayer for Homicidal In-Laws

Thursday, August 5, 2021

A Prayer for Homicidal In-Laws – Audio Version

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away a newly-wed groom woke to a very bad morning. 

The kingdom’s evil king had sent his henchmen to watch the house of the newly-wed groom. They had orders to kill the groom that morning.

However, and thankfully, the morning was not quite as bad as it might otherwise have been, since the evil king’s assassin-goons were temporarily delayed. They watched the house in vain that morning. 

Somehow, the newly-wed bride had received inside information. She had been told what the henchmen actually intended. Together the newlyweds devised a plan. They put a dummy in a bed to make it look like the groom was still there. Then she went to the front door and faced the king’s goony henchmen. She told them, “I am so sorry. I realize you are looking for my husband, but he has fallen ill and is still asleep in bed.” Her ruse bought her newly-wed groom enough time to jump through a side window and slip away.

So what happened to the newly-wed bride? Did she get into trouble? Was she arrested? No, not exactly. Instead, the bride was brought before the evil king. When she arrived, she had another line ready. “Well, you see your royal highness — Daddy dearest — my horrible new husband threatened to kill me — me, your own darling little princess — unless I cooperated and helped him slip away.”

Yes, the evil king was the bride’s own father. The evil king had ordered and arranged for the killing of his new son-in-law. 

From the king’s perspective, it was never supposed to have happened in the first place. The evil king never intended for the wedding to happen. He believed he had come up with a clever way to conveniently get rid of a popular young rival. The evil king proclaimed that he would give his own daughter in marriage to the young man, who had served him as a courageous military commander, if only the young man would go collect one hundred enemy scalps. Except, you should know that I am using the word scalps as a euphemism for some other circle of skin. The evil king believed that, given the odds against him, the courageous young military commander would surely meet a lamentable defeat, and heroically face his untimely demise. It was an altogether convenient strategy, a win-win for everyone involved. The evil King would win total unrivaled control. And his young courageous commander would win a place in history as a tragic, glorious martyr.       

The young courageous military commander agreed that the king’s proposition would result in a win-win. He would win the king’s daughter. And the king would win a battle against his enemies. So he happily agreed to the king’s proposal. He determined to go collect not one hundred enemy “scalps,” but two hundred. And… surprise, surprise… he succeeded. He won the battle. Consequently, the king had to deliver. 

From the king’s perspective, the wedding was never supposed to have happened. But then it did. It was all very awkward and embarrassing for the king, who envied the young commander. And now the young commander was his son-in-law.

Desperate times call for extreme measures, they say. The king deemed this a particularly desperate time. The young courageous commander was far too successful and far too popular, even among the king’s own children. Years before, the king’s own son, the heir apparent, had become the commander’s best friend. And then, the commander had managed to beat the odds and win the king’s daughter as his bride. The king would not watch everything slip away without a fight. He seethed with resentment and jealousy. His throne was in jeopardy. His new son-in-law had to die, and die as soon as possible.

By the way, this story is not original to me. And I am not making any of this up. I am simply retelling an old, old story. This is all in the Old Testament, in the Bible.    

The king’s name is Saul. The young commander’s name is David. You can find this story for yourself in the Book of First Samuel, chapters eighteen and nineteen. Go ahead and check if I have retold the story accurately. 

Spoiler alert: David does eventually end up winning the throne. He becomes king. But before he does, King Saul spends a lot of time and effort trying unsuccessfully to kill him. 

I write all this because it is the back story to a Psalm, Psalm 59.

Psalm 59 caught my attention because it contains what appears to be two contradictory requests. In verse 11 the Psalmist prays that God would not kill his enemies. But then in verse 13 the Psalmist prays for God to consume his enemies, consume them until they are no more.

This makes no sense whatsoever. It seems like a complete contradiction: “Please don’t kill my adversaries, God — just completely consume them.”

But it does make sense if and when you understand the backstory. The Psalmist is none other than David. His adversaries include his father-in-law, once-close friends, and former comrades. The Psalmist does not want them to die. But he does want God to eliminate their threats and the vicious smear campaign. So he prays that God will undo them.

Crucially, the word for consume in the original language — the Hebrew language — also means finish. David wants God to finish his adversaries, but not necessarily kill them.

The word for consume or finish might also connote their eventual destruction, as opposed to their immediate destruction. If that is the case, then David desires that God would give them more time before their demise. Considering that they had tried to kill him, why would David want them to live any longer, though? Perhaps his motives are noble. Perhaps he desires both vindication and reconciliation.

In the second half of verse 11 David further explains why he does not want any of them to meet an untimely, premature death. “Lest they forget,” he says. “Do not kill them, lest my people forget.” David wants “his” people not to forget what happened. Might he want not just his loyal subjects, but even his old adversaries alive to remember?

That assumption works best, I think. David wants even his opponents to witness his victory and his vindication, so that they will realize that they were wrong all along. He wants them to remember the lies they once believed, wants them to see their error, and wants them to realize that they had him wrong. In other words, he is praying for his vindication and for their potential conversion. David does not want them dead. Instead, he wants God to bring their hostility to an end. He wants to finish them off as adversaries, but not as individuals.

Unless you know the backstory, the Psalm does not make sense. But once you do know the backstory, not only does it make sense, it also serves as a good example of how to pray for those who do you wrong. 

Do not kill them, God. Just undo what they have errantly said and done; and let everyone who witnessed the fiasco observe how it all ends, and thereafter recall who was wrong and who was right.

In other words, Psalm 59 is a prayer not for vengeance, but for vindication.

Personally, I like that prayer. I like it a lot.

God Cannot

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

God Cannot – Audio Version

Although He strongly desires to do so, sometimes God will not intervene in a situation unless a mediator — an intercessor —approaches the Throne to request His intervention. And although it may sound unorthodox (and perhaps even heretical), it may even be accurate to say that in some situations God Almighty cannot intervene unless a mediator requests intervention from Him.

Yeah, I know: The word cannot sounds wrong. It sounds unorthodox and seems suspect because it implies that Almighty God is somehow deficient and incapable of acting. Nevertheless, Scripture does indeed speak of constraints upon God. For example, in Titus 1:2 we are told that God does not lie. In some English translations, it reads “cannot lie.” Scripture does not merely say that God chooses not to lie. Scripture teaches that God never lies. Does this mean God is wholly incapable of lying? Yes, I would argue it means just that, because God’s holiness precludes it. By virtue of His holiness, the God of Truth never, ever lies. Therefore, it is both scriptural and accurate to say that there is something that Almighty God cannot do. God Almighty cannot lie. Much of great consequence can be extrapolated from this divine incapability. The holy integrity of the Almighty God means He is self-constrained, constrained by His own character.

“… in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago…”

The Apostle Paul, mid sentence in The Epistle to Titus 1:2, as translated in the NASB 2020 Edition

Moreover, because of His holiness, His integrity, God will never break His promises. This is a particularly pertinent point, when we consider approaching God with our requests in prayer. If God has said He will do something, He will do it. If God has said He will not do something, He will not do it. God will perform His Word, as promised, guaranteed.

We procure the promises of God through prayer.

Just as it scriptural to say that God cannot lie, I want to suggest that it is also scripturally and theologically sound to say that God cannot break His promises. That is because here we have two effectively equivalent statements. To say that God cannot break a promise is no different than to say that God cannot lie. In practice, it is effectively the same thing, said twice, only slightly differently each time. God cannot lie; and God cannot break His promises: functionally equivalent statements. Numbers 23:19 lends scriptural support for this.

God is not a man, that He would lie, Nor a son of man, that He would change His mind; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Balaam in The Book of Numbers 23:19

We can flip this notion over and speak positively where we were just speaking negatively. If we were to flip that-which-God-cannot-do over, positively it becomes that-which-God-always-and-invariably-does. God’s incapability for lying can be flipped into an affirmation that God always and forever speaks the truth, and that God always and invariably keeps His Word. Much of great consequence can be extrapolated from this characteristic, from the fact of divine consistency.

From Psalm 31:5

For example, here we have a rock-solid, absolutely steady premise for our prayers. God is a God who keeps His promises. So if you hear of a promise in Scripture, you ought to pause and give it some careful consideration. If it indeed applies to you, it might be useful to you — maybe even very useful. Seriously. You might be able to bring that promise back to God in prayer and lay hold of it with confidence. Furthermore, if the God of Scripture is indeed the God of Truth, this is a tremendously big deal.

Now at this point, someone might wonder, “But if God has promised to do something, why do we even need to bother approaching Him with prayer?” A skeptic might even slide into ridicule here, and taunt, “What, is God forgetful? Does God need us to remind Him of His promises?”

The answer to those objections and to that mockery is simply, “No, God is not forgetful at all. You have it wrong. He is instead relational. God’s promises are made to those with whom He has an ongoing, mutually cultivated, covenantal relationship. And God makes good on His promises when He is approached appropriately, on the terms He has set. However, God is not otherwise obliged. He may or may not answer the prayers of other supplicants.”

This all makes perfect sense when marriage is used as an analogy. Spouses are bound and obliged to each other by their covenantal commitment. And spouses are most likely to make good on their promises when they remain on good terms. Alternatively, spouses are most definitely not obliged to anyone else. Speaking personally, if I make a promise to my wife, I am obligated, like it or not, to eventually keep that promise; and I am most inclined to keep that promise quickly when we are happy with each other. Of course, this applies only to our marriage and is only true of my wife. I am by no means obligated to fulfill that particular promise to anyone else, no matter how trivial it is. Only the designated recipient of a given promise can rightfully claim it. Again, and for emphasis: Only the designated recipient of a given promise can rightfully claim it.

It works exactly the same way with God and obtaining His promises in prayer. The God of the Bible is nothing if not intensely relational. Like a jealous spouse, God fully expects and requires relationship and loyal commitment. Furthermore, it is only within the bounds of relationship and loyal covenantal commitment that God makes and faithfully keeps his promises. God is only bound to keep His promises to those who are ready and willing make a resolute commitment to Him.

Okay then, if that is so, how does someone make such a commitment to God, and thereby become a recipient of all the personally relevant scriptural promises?  

Well, strange as it may sound, this is exactly the reason why Jesus Christ went to the cross. He endured an agonizing, horrible death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins; and in so doing he established a new covenant (or testament), a covenant in which God has made enduring, eternal, and incomparable promises, such as eternal life.

“A New Covenant in His Blood”

Consequently, you do wisely and well to make a binding, covenantal commitment to the God of Truth. You do so by confessing your sinfulness, by acknowledging the significance of the price that Jesus Christ paid for you (you personally) on the cross, and by pledging yourself to resolutely follow Christ from henceforth, so help you God.

As controversial as the claim may be in certain circles, the cross of Christ is the prescribed way to be reconciled with God. Indeed, the New Testament teaches that the cross of Christ is the one and only way to be completely and eternally reconciled to God Almighty. Perhaps then we have here another example of God cannot, another divine incapability. Apart from the covenant which Christ established in his blood at the cross, God cannot be reconciled to us, since our sinfulness otherwise renders us too offensive to God. And, try as we may, we cannot set ourselves right by determined good behavior, either. We need (and have) a mediator provided and accepted by God. We have a court-appointed advocate, an intercessor: Jesus Christ.

For if a law had been given that was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has confined everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

The Apostle Paul, in The Epistle to the Galatians 3:21b-22

This final God cannot claim is an altogether imperative claim to prayerfully consider, to be sure. Rest assured, though, that God promises to receive sincere prayers of commitment and contrition.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise.

King David of Ancient Israel, as recorded in Psalm 51:17


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Our Opposition

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Our Opposition – Audio Version

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

1 John 3:8

A good friend asked me to write something about unanswered prayer. Ironically enough, his request to write about the vexing problem of unanswered prayer comes as an answer to a standing prayer of mine. His request gave me a clear sense of which direction to take my blog, which is something I have been feeling unsure about and praying about.

To answer his question about why our prayers sometimes go unanswered (at least seemingly so), I am going to reference and bring together a number of passages from the Bible. At the center, my anchor passage will be Revelation Chapter 10, which in perusal appears to have nothing to do with prayer whatsoever. So it seems, until you study its subtle signposts.    

In a previous blog post entitled The Cast of Chapter Ten, I argued that the Mighty Angel in Revelation Chapter Ten is none other than Jesus Christ himself. Are you skeptical of that claim? I strongly suspect that some of my readers and listeners are initially uncertain about that claim. Why not just accept that the Mighty Angel is an angelic being? I would ask anyone who is skeptical about it to do two things: First, go re-read or re-listen to that blog post. Second, hear me out in this blog post. 

An edible (and yet indigestible) scroll ties Revelation 10:8-10 directly to Ezekiel 3:1-3. In the Prophecy of Ezekiel, Someone enthroned in glory (yet resembling a man: Ezekiel 1:26) hands an edible, script-covered scroll to Ezekiel and instructs him to eat it. In the Book of Revelation, the Mighty Angel (who, incidentally, is described very similarly to the One Enthroned in Ezekiel: compare Ezekiel 1:28 to Revelation 10:1) hands an edible scroll to John and instructs him to eat it. Could this be the one and the same Scroll-Giver in both Ezekiel and Revelation? I do believe so. I will assume so. I assume the celestial Scroll-Giver to be none other than Jesus Christ in both books. Again, I argue for this more thoroughly in my previous post The Cast of Chapter Ten.

If you are willing to tentatively grant me my premise (that in both Ezekiel and in Revelation the Scroll-Giver is Jesus Christ), then I will proceed to introduce an awkward, unsettling, and complicating piece of information, a piece of information that opens up the question of unanswered prayer. This awkward, unsettling, and complicating piece of information truly does complicate things. 

Here I go: Revelation 10 points not just to the introduction of Ezekiel, but also to the closing of Daniel. Revelation 10:5-6 depicts the Mighty Angel as making a solemn oath, in deliberate replay of the angel depicted in Daniel 12:7. In itself, that deliberate replay — that echo — is not a problem. But it becomes awkward for me quickly, because the angel at the end of the Prophecy of Daniel looks less like Jesus Christ and more like a standard-issue angelic being. It would be much better for my argument if it were the other way around.

Consequently, I do not readily admit that, nor point it out. I do not want to admit that because at the end of Daniel we are presented with an angel who comes across as a mere angel, and not Jesus Christ. All the same, Revelation Chapter Ten clearly points its readers not just to the opening of Ezekiel, but also to closing three chapters of Daniel, where we read about or hear about an angel who gets temporarily delayed in a spiritual conflict. That temporary delay poses something of a problem for me. And my whole argument may disintegrate due to it. 

But then again, maybe not. 

Am I getting way ahead of myself? My readers and listeners might not know enough about the angel or angels in the closing chapters of the Prophecy of Daniel, yet. So here is a quick and loose summary: While exiled from his homeland Daniel served as a government official (in multiple foreign administrations) and as a prophet of God (an interesting and unusual combination of occupations). At one point, after reading the Prophecy of Jeremiah, Daniel began praying about the potential reconstruction and restoration of Jerusalem, a city he had not seen for decades, since his youth. In response to Daniel’s prayer, God sent the Angel Gabriel with an answer (see Daniel 9:21). Who did God send? A standard-issue angelic being named Gabriel. And no, the Angel Gabriel is definitely not Jesus Christ. Am I wrong, then, to think that the doppelgänger Mighty Angel in Revelation 10 is Jesus? Might he simply be the Angel Gabriel? Hold on, though. Angelic mix-up is occurring here. Gabriel is not the Mighty Angel’s doppelgänger; another angel/messenger is.

On another and separate occasion Daniel prayed another time. Again, God sent an angelic messenger to answer Daniel’s prayer. But this time, the angel is not named; instead this Angel is said to resemble a man (see Daniel 10:18). You might recall that in Ezekiel the Scroll-Giver is said to resemble a man (see Ezekiel 1:26). Perhaps you can see where I am going with this. Perhaps this Angel — this man-resembling messenger — is said to resemble a man because he is in fact the Son of Man, that is, Jesus Christ. This, then, is not just a doppelgänger. This is the same person, the same individual, the same being. This is Jesus Christ, in Daniel, as in Ezekiel, as in Revelation. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He just appears to humanity in various guises.

But if so — if the Angel introduced in Daniel 10 is in fact Jesus Christ — then how is it that this divine Angel was delayed by the Prince of Persia for 21 days (see Daniel 10:13)? How is it that Jesus Christ was held up for three weeks? How is it that Jesus Christ required the assistance of a Chief Prince named Michael? That does not compute. Could Jesus Christ really be delayed in spiritual conflict and in need of assistance?

Yes. Yes, he could. If I am interpreting these passages correctly, that is the implication.

What?!? Some of my readers and listeners did not like that answer, not at all. Admittedly, it sounds nigh-to-heretical. If Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, then nothing and no one can stand in his way and hold him up. Jesus Christ does not need anyone’s assistance.

That is true, on this side of the Cross. But somehow the Prince of Persia (who was not a man, but an evil spiritual being) had legal standing and real spiritual authority. At that point in human history, Jesus Christ had not yet defeated the Principalities and Powers of Darkness. Jesus Christ would utterly defeat them later, at the Cross. Yet for some reason, in Daniel’s day, Jesus Christ did not invoke or actualize his full divine authority. It may even be accurate to say that Jesus Christ could not invoke or actualize his divine authority until after he had completed his mission to save humanity. I think this may be because once God sets spiritual rules, He plays by those rules, even if it means He necessarily imposes limits on Himself.

This may all sound slightly crazy and maybe even theologically unsound. But consider the New Testament passages where Jesus confronts demons and evil spirits. They are fully aware of the potential threat he poses to their “turf,” their domain and dominion (see Mark 1:24). And in his temptation of Jesus, Satan himself even claims to have rightful authority over the kingdoms of the world (see Luke 4:5-6). Jesus was an invader who had come to reclaim what they had previously seized in spiritual battle.

Prior to his incarnation and his victory at the cross, then, Jesus’ authority was temporarily restrained. The Prince of Persia, who had real spiritual authority, was able to contest and delay the pre-incarnate Christ. And the pre-incarnate Christ even required the assistance of Michael, an angel. It sounds crazy, I admit. But it might be right.

What does this have to do with prayer? Daniel only got the answer to his prayer after 21 days of intense spiritual warfare. Perhaps that tells us something important. Perhaps some spiritual battles are only won through persistence in prayer. Perhaps we even assist God through our prayers. Perhaps some accomplishments only occur when we partner with God in prayer. If so, it is probably because those are the spiritual rules God has set; and God plays by those rules.

His disciples once asked Jesus why they had been unable to rid a boy of a demon. Jesus’ response (see Mark 9:29) was telling: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” My wife gets a nod and the credit for making the link between this passage in Mark and the conundrum we find in Daniel 10. Thank you, my dear.

As you might guess, I am back to asserting and affirming that the Mighty Angel of Revelation Chapter 10 is one and the same person as the one resembling a man in Ezekiel 1:26 and the angel/messenger resembling a man in Daniel 10:16. 

How does all this help my friend who is perplexed by the problem of unanswered prayer? If nothing else, it tells us that due to unseen spiritual opposition some of our prayers will require patient persistence and even more patient persistence. We know from Scripture — from Ephesians 6:12 in particular — that we struggle not against flesh and blood opponents, but against rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world, against spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms. Since Jesus has already defeated those spiritual forces of evil at the Cross, we are much better positioned than Daniel ever was. And if Daniel was able to secure an answer to his prayer through persistence before Christ’s victory on the Cross, we stand an even better chance of getting answers to our prayers after the Cross.