A week ago, we returned from an unforgettable 10 days in Israel. Our small group of family and a couple dear friends also encompassed three generations from my mom and dad, Helen and I, and our kids. It was truly a unique experience to see the Holy Land through a variety of eyes and perspectives. Thousands of photos (including the one our daughter took, above) and indelible memories later, it is still with a sense of regret that we returned to “usual” life.
Touring the Holy Land is cathartic on innumerable levels. History is important. Visualizing the accounts conveyed in scripture is unparalleled. Yet I think the most substantial aspect of the experience is the individual imprint it leaves. I’d postulate that none of us are impacted in the same way … much like the reading of God’s word is a way that He speaks to us discretely and uniquely. Having been to Israel previously, I also know that the affect of seeing God’s land is often peeled back layer by layer over time. Again, similarly to how God’s word permeates our hearts a level at a time as we peer into it more and more and allow the Holy Spirit to use it to minister to us.
So it is that I am both deeply moved from our time in Israel and probably wholly unaware of the eventual implication of the journey. Reading over the time since we left through 1 Samuel 25-31, 2 Samuel 1-4, 1 Chronicles 1-10, Psalms 6, 8-10, 14, 16-19, 21, 35, 43-45, 49, 54, 63,73, 77-78, 81, 84-85, 87-88, 92-93, 102-104, 121, 123-125, 128-130, was superlative because I was reading and seeing at the same time.
Such is the case with our visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, coupled with a lesson that struck me from 1 Samuel 25. But let me first set up the situation … King David and his men were traveling from En-Gedi to the wilderness and along the way, came upon the land of a wealthy but testy man called Nabal. David asked Nabal to share any provisions he might be willing to provide. Nabal answered in a way that was both insulting and pompous, resulting in David’s rage and vow to kill Nabal. Fortunately for Nabal, his wife Abigail intervened, tipping the scales away from David’s ire and toward mercy instead. Abigail’s plea is conveyed in verses 23 to 28 …
When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed low before him. She fell at his feet and said, “I accept all blame in this matter, my lord. Please listen to what I have to say. I know Nabal is a wicked and ill-tempered man; please don’t pay any attention to him. He is a fool, just as his name suggests. But I never even saw the young men you sent. “Now, my lord, as surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, since the Lordhas kept you from murdering and taking vengeance into your own hands, let all your enemies and those who try to harm you be as cursed as Nabal is. And here is a present that I, your servant, have brought to you and your young men. Please forgive me if I have offended you in any way. The Lord will surely reward you with a lasting dynasty, for you are fighting the Lord’s battles. And you have not done wrong throughout your entire life.
As we were planning to visit the Temple Mount (as shown in the photo above) we were warned that we had to remove any semblance of our Christian faith. No bibles. No cross necklaces, even if under our shirts. It was primarily for our safety. Traveling the country and historic sites, places where Christian history happened and places that pointed to Messiah, but which have been overrun and superseded by other religions to the drowning out of Christ, it’s tough not to get angry. Sort of like David’s response to Nabal. I have to admit, my initial responses were irritation and frustration. Denigrating our Savior isn’t something I tend to take lightly. It seems that limitations imposed on our faith are expanding and deepening. Antipathy toward Christianity feels as though it’s collapsing upon us on all sides … not just on the Temple Mount, not just in Israel, not just in the Middle East.
We can choose to be angry and seek retribution somehow. We can argue and complain and reflect back on those who limit us with seemingly similar limitations. Fight fire with fire. Tip the scales in our favor. Or we can be heartbroken and share God’s care for the lost. Tip the scales toward mercy.
God wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). We often want otherwise, particularly when we have a chance to fight back against those who fight us. How do we live a life that shares God’s heart for the lost and, how do we choose to focus less on how others are striving to limit our faith and more on the void that exists in their lives?
Nine days ago I was in the garden of Gethsemane, recalling Jesus’s turmoil as He was hours away from crucifixion. Jesus felt anguish both for the fact that He knew He’d have to go to the cross and accept the punishment and death associated with it, but I’m also convinced that His anguish was as much about the fact that the condition existed to begin with – our depravity hurt Him perhaps at least as much as His payment for it. If we are to emulate Him, we need to tip the scales in a different direction … away from the anger of the attacks on the Christian faith and more to the anguish of knowing so many don’t have it. As Abigail intervened on behalf of her husband – despite that he may have deserved to be punished – so perhaps we should have a heart of intervention for those who lack hope and fulfillment. Those who are “this close” to (spiritual) death and don’t realize it.
Standing on top of the Temple Mount I reflected on how that morning before we left, I asked God to change my heart from resentment about how I was being forced to hide my expressions of faith. Seeing four or five religious Jews need to be escorted across the Temple Mount by soldiers because they refused to remove their yarmulkes was an apt reminder that I need Him to continually change my heart … that visual brought me back to infuriation. But maybe what should incense me is how little mercy I can tend to show those that are lost. How little I truly internalize what Jesus was really doing on that cross … forgiving us unforgivables and paving the way for those who have yet to receive the pardon. What should rile me is the enemy who covers the eyes of so many and falsifies his status as defeated and impotent, dragging so many unsuspecting and oblivious adherents of his lies along with him. Time for me (us) to tip the scales back to where Jesus was … love and mercy for those who need it most.
Soli Deo gloria!