The Siren's Song

When the Sirens Sing

Enjoying intimacy with God involves walking in the Spirit. And walking in the Spirit MUST involve gaining victory over the flesh. It’s not a life of no longer being tempted. It is a life of overcoming temptation.

The following is entirely from J. Oswald Sanders; a passage I read this morning that I thought I should share:

The key is not the mere damming back of the temptation, only for it to break out once again, worse than ever. It is the counteraction operation of a higher and more powerful law. The principle [can be] powerfully illustrated in the Greek myths of Ulysses and the sirens, and Jason and the Argonauts.

When Ulysses and his men set out on their journey of conquest, they were warned by Circe to avoid the sirens at all costs. She told them that the sirens’ voices were alluring but fatal to all who stopped to listen. The unfortunate listeners became rooted like a tree and could not tear themselves away, until they died of hunger.

“Fill your companions’ ears with wax” she counseled. “If you yourself want to listen to their song, first let your men bind you securely to the mast.” Ulysses heeded her advice. “If the melody beguiles me,” he ordered them, “I charge you, disobey my word, and bend more strongly to your oars.”

At length Ulysses heard the beautiful strains that stole into his mind, overpowered his body, and overcame his will. As the music came sweeter and sweeter, Ulysses’ love for home weakened. He struggled with his shame, but at last the bewitching voices of the sirens prevailed.

“Loose me and let me stay with the sirens!” he raged. He threatened and entreated… He raged and tore at his bonds, for it was agony for him to leave the spot. But not until the last sound of music died away did they loose him. He had passed out of the zone of temptation.

Jason with his Argonauts set out in search of the Golden Fleece. Medea warned Jason and his men of the menace of the sirens, as they began to hear their bewitching strains. All around they could see the shore strewn with the bones of those who had succumbed to the sirens’ charms.

On board the boat was Orpheus, the king of minstrels. “Let them match their songs with mine,” he challenged the three maidens whom they could see, and whose silvery voices stole over the moonlit waters…The oars of Jason’s heroes fell from their hypnotized hands.

“Sing louder! Wake up these sluggards!” Medea cried to Orpheus. Orpheus struck his skillful hand over the strings of his lyre, and his voice rose like a trumpet. The music penetrated the souls of the infatuated men, and their souls thrilled. Orpheus kept on singing until his voice completely drowned the voices of the sirens. Once again the Argonauts took up their oars, and Jason and his men sailed to victory.

“Sing the song again, Orpheus,” they cried. “We will dare and suffer to the last.”

* * *

These stories strikingly illustrate two possible ways of gaining victory over the desires of the flesh. One is the way of negations and prohibitions. They are of some help and have their place. Ulysses was bound, otherwise he would have yielded to the cravings of his heart. His men had wax in their ears, or they too would have yielded. But it is an incontrovertible fact that to concentrate the mind on the desires of the flesh, if only to conquer them, seems to intensify the desires.

How much better is the Orphean music than the Ulyssian wax! With the heavenly Orpheus on board, as we listen to His heavenly music, the voices of the sirens lose the power of their appeal, and our spirits are set free.

It is all a matter of who is in control of the life. The self-life with its unlawful desires and tendencies is the citadel of the fleshly principle, and will continue to dominate until it is consigned to the cross. Paul wrote: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). That is involved in walking by the Spirit and results in our emancipation from yielding to the desires of the flesh.

– – –

Sanders, J. Oswald. Enjoying Intimacy with God “Walking in the Spirit”

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Everything and Nothing

The grief and longing of the human soul for things lost are made almost tangible by the poetic words. In the story, when the lovers reunite once more, the young maid cries,

So many times have I waked when the stars were sinking, to long for thee, beloved. It is cruel, at such a time, to be alone in love. . .

They marry in haste that same afternoon. She—the love of his life, now a beggar, a faded beauty. And she is dying. He—a counselor to the Sultan and exceedingly rich.

The judge officiating the wedding asks for the terms of the marriage. What can she bring to her husband as dowry?

“Property?” Omar smiled. “Hair dark as the storm wind, a waist slender as a young cypress, and a heart that knoweth naught but love. She needs no more. Make haste!”

The judge tells the scribe to writes down “Nothing of tangible value”

“And Now, what property doth your Excellency bestow upon her?”

“Everything—all that I have.”

“Will your Excellency please consider that we must place reasonable terms on record? ‘Everything’ will not stand before the law. We must have itemization…and their approximate value—”

“Write ‘Everything of tangible value,’” Omar instructed the scribe . . .

Later, before showering his bride with gifts of silk, jewels, gold, damask, and pearls Omar whispered to her “O my bride, never wilt thou know other arms than mine.”

* * *

I like stories. Don’t you?

Here’s another one.

Once upon a time, there came a Prince sent from Heaven. He was humble in garb, but was still the Son of God, and he captivated the world. He brought joy, healing, and good news for everyone. After all, he came to earth to be with the fallen race, a people who were poor, and dying…

To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

In short, he gave them Everything, when they could give him Nothing in return.

This, my modern friends, was rash indeed. The exchange of the dowry was customary in the Eastern culture. A marriage contract had to be made official with the exchange of monetary gifts. It was as important as what we would consider an exchange of vows.

Yet time and time again in the Bible, it is God who makes the initiative to seek you out, and take you as you are as his Bride. Because the one thing you can give him–that which is “nothing of tangible value” to others–means everything to him.

So will you give him your heart?

– – –

[1] Lamb, Harold Omar Khayyam (New York: Bantam, 1956) p.94

 

Blue

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15)

Blue.

Such a pretty color. Psychologically it transmits peace, tranquility, and brings calm. It has a Biblical meaning too. It is said that it is the color of God’s throne is blue:

Above the dome over [the winged creatures’s] heads was something that looked like a throne made of sapphire. On the throne was a figure that looked like a human (Ezekiel 1:26 GW)

The color blue was used extensively in the tabernacle. When God was giving directions to Moses on how to make it, he went into great detail on the colors it should have: blue, purple, and scarlet. The three colors were always mentioned in that order: blue first, then the color of royalty (purple), and then the color of power and wealth (crimson). God instructed the Israelites to incorporate the color in their clothing, on the edge of their robes for a singular reason:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart…so you shall be holy to your God” (Numbers 15:37-40)

Blue, then, is representative of the word of God. Wearing it meant that you faithfully obeyed his commandments. That is why, the priest’s clothing included an ephod, embroidered in blue, purple, and scarlet, and over it went a robe from a single piece of blue woven cloth. (Ex. 39:27). The entire priestly garment with its beautiful colors (of which blue was always predominant) was an insigne to what the golden badge on his forehead plainly stated HOLINESS TO THE LORD.

* * *

The book of Revelation has many startling images, all rife with symbolism. Here is a particular one of interest:

One of the seven angels who held the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of that notorious prostitute who sits on raging waters. The kings of the earth had sex with her, and those living on earth became drunk on the wine of her sexual sins.” Then the angel carried me by his power into the wilderness. I saw a woman sitting on a bright red beast covered with insulting names. It had seven heads and ten horns. The woman wore purple clothes, bright red clothes, gold jewelry, gems, and pearls. In her hand she was holding a gold cup filled with detestable and evil things from her sexual sins. A name was written on her forehead. The name was Mystery: Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Detestable Things of the Earth. I saw that the woman was drunk with the blood of God’s holy people and of those who testify about Jesus. I was very surprised when I saw her. (Rev 17: 1-6)

The woman sitting on the beast represents a false church. She is even wearing the colors that were found in the tabernacle of God–even mentioned in the same order–except for one: Blue. She has the trappings of the church’s authority and prestige, but she is a church that is neither holy nor godly, or even obedient to all of God’s commandments. A vast contrast to the humble beginnings of the true church!

* * *

Symbolically speaking, God’s children, and his church, should keep in mind that we are to be clad  in blue–the color of holiness and obedience to the Lord. Before you get caught up in the piety, the sacrifices for God, and the motions of being a devout Christian, you need to first get caught up in his word. After all, obedience is what he requires from you.

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. (1 Samuel 15:22)

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (John 14:15) 

While Reading the Bible, Discard the Brain (But Keep the Heart)

Most cultures in antiquity designated the heart not only as the seat of emotion, but also the seat of thought.[i] That’s why the Egyptians, for example, extracted and discarded the “useless” gray matter (i.e. brain) prior to the mummification of the dead (“Who cares what this mushy stuff is?It’s just gross… Hurry up and get it out”).

The heart, however, was jealously and carefully stored, because it was responsible for life, desires, and thoughts.

This same attribution occurred in the Jewish culture, which is why in the Bible the meaning of so many passages in which the heart is mentioned should be re-considered—there is additional depth to the heart than we can suppose upon a cursory reading. It is, therefore, convenient to re-define the meaning of heart as used in the Bible. Better yet, discard the notion/function of the brain as the seat of thought and keep the heart instead.

According to some sources, the heart was the “seat of all morality and of all moral and spiritual functions.”[1] This encompassed the conscience, and the thinking self.

In short, what came from the heart was much more than emotion. It was thought of as “the authority within.”[2] In other words, the will.

* * *

 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

By the fact that “heart” is mentioned in this passage, it describes this love as being much more than a love based on emotions; it is based on a total surrender of the will and the self. A love coming from what makes you you—a conscious love, not a heedless, reckless thing.

This begs the question—how does one love God like that?  How can we, people who have so distorted the definition of love to include everything from affection, to fleeting infatuation (even erotic passion), properly respond? Is God simply asking for the impossible?

* * *

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)

God’s promise is to give you a new heart—and with it a new way of thinking, a new way of making decisions, a new way of being your own self. That is what makes the promise in Ezekiel so much more meaningful than before. God wants to give you a new set of values by which you are able to live by. Obedience of his law comes natural to the new heart he gives you, because it has transformed the “authority within” you. It is no longer you, but Christ who lives, thinks, and is in you.


[i] It wasn’t until Herophilos in Alexandria (Egypt) did many studies in human anatomy by means of dissections, that the center of thought was relocated from the heart to the brain, and the mechanical connection between the heart, the pulse, and the flowing of blood in the veins was first grasped.

How to Find Treasure

When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight (Jer 15:16)

Shortly after Jack Thomas graduated from college as a Mining Engineer, gold was discovered at Devil’s Head Lake, Montana. So Jack headed West.

Three years later the death of his father left him with $20,000 in cash to which he added another $20,000 collected from relatives and friends. With the $40,000 he headed back to Devil’s Head Lake and staked out his claim on a formation he had been studying and was convinced gave promise.

With machinery bought, a crew hired, he started to drill. But at the end of two years he was worn out . . .  discouraged . . . and broke. All he had left was the battered drilling machinery and an assortment of tools and supplies. Utterly disillusioned and disgusted, he sold the entire outfit to a junk man for $1,500.

But before carting the machinery away the junk man looked over the ground. He had a hunch that Jack’s mining knowledge might have been good . . . but that he might have been a bit short on grit and determination.

So, instead of dismantling the machinery, he decided to do a little drilling on his own.

Thirty days later . . . exactly two feet below where Jack [had] stopped . . . the junk man hit one of the most valuable gold streaks in the region. [1]

“As the miner discovers veins of precious metal concealed beneath the surface of the earth, so will he who perseveringly searches the word of God as for hid treasure find truths of the greatest value, which are concealed from the view of the careless seeker.” [2]

* * *

Oftentimes I find that it is all too-easy to miss out on God’s message to me because I don’t focus on what I am reading. I read a Psalm, or a chapter of Proverbs and I consider that as enough, when that is barely scratching the surface of a treasure mine.

Sometimes I am too busy to dwell on what I read, to seek out more information, or to pray about it. I suspect most of us are like that. But how great would it be if we daily devoted an hour just to seek God’s messages for us in the Bible?

– – –

[1] Spangler, W. M.Trigonometry and Graphs, (Scranton: International Textbook Company, 1954) Jacket

[2] White, E. G. Steps to Christ, “A Knowledge of God”

God’s Hand

Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it’s in your power to help them. (Proverbs 3:27 NLT)

The ropes dug painfully into his armpits as he was lowered down into the dungeon. The air was damp and foul, and very little could be seen by the wan light of the late afternoon that entered in through the small opening above—an opening that kept getting smaller and smaller the further down he was lowered.

They said this dungeon had been a cistern that was now emptied of water…just how deep was it? Jeremiah did not know. At last he felt his feet touch the bottom. Well, there was no danger of him drowning—What his feet touched was not water…but mud: thick, cold and viscous into which Jeremiah sank.

Complete darkness engulfed him when they closed the cistern. At last he understood—he had been left to die there: Buried alive in mud and darkness, alone, and in the silence of the grave.

He must have struggled against panic. His heart and even his faith could have failed him with the realization that the evil men’s intent was that he should die in that pit of mire. To cry out for help was useless—had not king Zedekiah himself delivered Jeremiah to the hand of enemies? Besides, no one would be able to hear the feeble cries coming up from the pit. And if that wasn’t enough, the unpopular prophet had few friends, and none who could overturn the order of a king. Only one could help—and to him did Jeremiah cry out

But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within the pit. You heard me when I cried, “Listen to my pleading! Hear my cry for help!” Yes, you came when I called; you told me, “Do not fear.” (Lamentations 3:55-57 NLT)

***

But Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, an important court official, heard that Jeremiah was in the cistern. At that time the king was holding court at the Benjamin Gate, so Ebed-melech rushed from the palace to speak with him. “My lord the king,” he said, “these men have done a very evil thing in putting Jeremiah the prophet into the cistern. He will soon die of hunger, for almost all the bread in the city is gone.”

So the king told Ebed-melech, “Take thirty of my men with you, and pull Jeremiah out of the cistern before he dies.”

So Ebed-melech took the men with him and went to a room in the palace beneath the treasury, where he found some old rags and discarded clothing. He carried these to the cistern and lowered them to Jeremiah on a rope. Ebed-melech called down to Jeremiah, “Put these rags under your armpits to protect you from the ropes.” Then when Jeremiah was ready, they pulled him out. (Jeremiah 38:7-13 NLT)

***

Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person. (Proverbs 3:27 MSG)

God could have easily sent an angel and delivered Jeremiah. God can use angels to feed the hungry, rescue the oppressed, speak up for truth, and spread the message of hope to the nations. But he gives us the opportunity to do this work, to be his hands, his feet, and be the means by which he gives blessings to others. That is why we are in the world. We are not told to be hermits and be holy by ourselves. The biggest blessing we can receive is that of being an agent—an ambassador—of God.

If Ebed-melech the Ethiopian had not heeded to the call of God and been brave enough to approach the king to plead Jeremiah’s cause, he might have ended up the way all the other king’s officials did: Taken captive by Nebuzaradan, dragged to Riblah in chains to face Nebuchadnezzar, and then put to death. But God had a special message for him; a promise that any of God’s children can claim if they do God’s bidding and are faithful to their trust.

“This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says: I will do to this city everything I have threatened. I will send disaster, not prosperity. You will see its destruction, but I will rescue you from those you fear so much. Because you trusted me, I will give you your life as a reward. I will rescue you and keep you safe. I, the Lord, have spoken!”(Jeremiah 39:16-18 NLT)

Have you claimed the privilege of being God’s hand for someone lately?

The Prophet No One Really Knows About

At this time Uriah son of Shemaiah from Kiriath-Jearim was also prophesying for the Lord. And he predicted the same terrible disaster against the city and nation as Jeremiah did . . . (Jeremiah 26:20 NLT)

Throughout the book of Jeremiah, there is a particular evil mentioned over and over again. Not just that of the apostacy of the people as they went after other gods, but that of the distortion of truth. The priests did not preach the truth to the people, and many, many false prophets rose up and told the people “Peace” when the people most needed to heed the Lord’s warnings.

Jeremiah had few friends. Yes, he is a very important prophet in the Bible, but in his day he was scorned, mocked, beaten, and even jailed several times. He lived in the last years of the Judean Kingdom, stood in the presence of many kings, lived to see all his predictions of doom come true, and the hand of God deliver him time and time again.

And Jeremiah needed it. His life was often in danger because he openly decried against the sins of the nation.

“The Lord sent me to prophesy against this Temple and this city,” he said. “The Lord gave me every word that I have spoken. But if you stop your sinning and begin to obey the Lord your God, he will change his mind about this disaster that he has announced against you. As for me, I am in your hands—do with me as you think best. But if you kill me, rest assured that you will be killing an innocent man! The responsibility for such a deed will lie on you, on this city, and on every person living in it. For it is absolutely true that the Lord sent me to speak every word you have heard.” (Jer 26:12-15)

Likewise Uriah the prophet prophesied the same message of the Lord. He was not a phony prophet, he had the truth, and spoke it. He was just as effective as Jeremiah, I imagine, otherwise King Jehoiakim and his officers might not have considered him a threat.

When King Jehoiakim and the army officers and officials heard what he was saying, the king sent someone to kill him. But Uriah heard about the plan and escaped in fear to Egypt. Then King Jehoiakim sent Elnathan son of Acbor to Egypt along with several other men to capture Uriah. They took him prisoner and brought him back to King Jehoiakim. The king then killed Uriah with a sword and had him buried in an unmarked grave. (Jer 26:21-23)

* * *

Egypt is considered to be a symbol of atheism; the disdainful attitude towards the Living God (Exodus 5:2). It also symbolizes the luxury, peace, and relative safety that the world offers. How often do we see in the Bible the children of God (often mistakenly) looking to Egypt as a refuge–and called out of Egypt to claim their rightful destiny? Could it be that Uriah looked not to God but to human strongholds for protection? Could it be that Uriah forfeited his God and abandoned his calling as the Lord’s messenger in order to pass for a nameless nobody? It is possible he did.

Uriah wasn’t the only one whom Jehoiakim wanted to kill. When the scribe Baruch read the scroll of the messages Jeremiah had had from God, both Baruch’s life and Jeremiah’s life were in danger. It is true they feared for their lives–they were told to hide–but there was no abandoning the post. It takes a deep trust in God to keep doing what he says you must do in face of great opposition. God took on an active role in their protection because when the king commanded the arrest of Baruch and Jeremiah, he himself hid them and kept them from harm (Jer 36:26).

* * *

What are some ways we tend to “look to Egypt” as our refuge? How can this possibly twart God’s purposes for you?

What are some promises in the Bible that tell of God’s protective care for his children?

Are we guaranteed the protective care of God in every situation? (see for example Daniel 3:17-18)