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Oct 14 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

October 13, 2019

Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
they cannot save the burden,
but themselves go into captivity.
Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
I will carry and will save.
Isaiah 46:1-4

Intro: I haven’t prepared a sermon today or a Bible study

What I have is more like a personal meditation
– a thought, not so much for the analytical mind,
• as for the thirsty, needy soul
– depth psychology tells us that the thoughts that move us most,
• that motivate and influence us,
◦ are not our most logical or even conscious thoughts
◦ but stories, symbols and images in our unconscious
• for instance, what stirs a patriotic heart
◦ is not an essay on the philosophical government of democracy
◦ but seeing the American flag raised and hearing “The Star Spangled Banner”

This passage in Isaiah is a piece of prophetic poetry

The Hebrew Scriptures use humor at times
– their most frequent forms are puns, sarcasm, and irony
• their favorite targets are pagan gods and especially idols
Walter Bruggemann tells us Isaiah 46 gives us “a reflection upon the decisive contrast between Yahweh and the other gods”
• Bel and Nebo were two of Babylon’s chief deities
– when the poem describes them as bowing and stooping,
• it paints a picture: these are the larger than life idols of Bel and Nebo
◦ Babylon has been conquered and its idols are being carted off to the foreign land of their enemies
◦ as the wheels of the carts hit bumps and potholes, the idols and rock back and forth, and looked as though these gods were themselves bowing
• gods that the Babylonians assumed could not be defeated,
◦ were not only unable to save Babylon, but were themselves taken captive
◦ they were, in fact, “burdens” on the weary beasts that pulled them

Idolatry, was a big issue for Israel, yet seems irrelevant to us

I read through 1 John this week and saw a similar irrelevance
– the last line of John’s letter says,
Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 Jn. 5:21)
• nowhere in his letter had John talked about idols
◦ the last chapter is full of Jesus Christ, God’s son
◦ for John, Jesus is not past tense – in him, we are in God (1 Jn. 5:12-15)
• his warning seems about idols out of place
◦ but maybe an idol is anything that comes between us and Jesus
◦ especially any material thing (cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17)
– in Colossians, Paul lists behaviors we need to get rid of
• last in the list is, greed, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5)
• I think greed maybe our nation’s most prevalent sin
◦ people will make or sell anything to get rich
◦ many people have sold their souls

Like the Babylonians, our god of greed has not saved us
– instead, like the others, this idol has become a burden
• it has put the cost of owning a home out of reach for millions
• it has burdened many people with poor health
◦ it has been a burden on our families, friends and co-workers
◦ and our poor planet is burdened with its toxicity

The Lord our God is everything that idols are not

The “decisive contrst” Brueggmann mentioned is clear in this passage
He says, “Yahweh is an active subject and agent, whereas the gods of Babylon are passive, immobile, mute objects.”

Notice how verse 2 is like a negative image of verse 4
The idols: They stoop
Yahweh: I have made
The idols: they bow down together
Yahweh: I will bear
The idols: they cannot save the burden
Yahweh: I will carry
The idols: [they] themselves go into captivity
Yahweh: [I] will save

To get attention of his people, God says, Listen to me, O house of Jacob
– if they pay attention to what God says, they will learn something
• even more, they gain something
• something of real value
– from “birth” to “old age” signifies the span of Israel’s existence
• although the message is collective and for the nation,
• it speaks to individuals as well
◦ what concerns the community concerns the individual

The idea of God carrying his people is deeply symbolic

It is one of those important archetypes of Jungian and depth psychology
– one of the earliest representations of Jesus is a shepherd carrying a sheep on his shoulders

• being carried in the arms of God is a cherished image from ancient times
◦ for example, from the time of Moses:
The eternal God is your dwelling place,
and underneath are the everlasting arms
(De. 33:27)
• this was still an effective symbolic metaphor in Isaiah’s time
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young
(Is. 40:11)
– it was still effective all the way into the 19th century
• in 1887 Anthony Showalter, who wrote many gospel hymns,
◦ published “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”

What a fellowship, what a joy divine, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Leaning, leaning, Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What have I to dread, what have I to fear, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Leaning, leaning, Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, Leaning on the everlasting arms.

• and it still worked in 1955, 1995, and 2010, where that hymn was used in the following movies:
◦ The “Night of the Hunter,” “Wild Bill,” and “True Grit”
◦ and the television series “House of Cards,” “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” and, my favorite, “The Simpsons”

I’m convinced that this specific imagery can still resonate in our hearts

How can wake myself up to being in God’s arms?

I think we can begin with the bare experience of life
– the problem is, we have to get out of the house,
• put away our cell phones, and see what’s here with our own eyes
• it is too easy to lose ourselves in mediated experiences
◦ watching other people engage in sports
◦ watching the adventures of others, scripted by human minds
– the world of people, pets and other living things is full of surprises
• full of wake-me-up moments

Yesterday I walked Kona, our yellow Lab, along Salt Creek Beach. As soon as we came within sight of the ocean, I saw dolphins. The number of dolphins in the pod was unusually large for as close as they came to the shore. It was a special moment that I wanted others to experience too. A man and woman passed us, walking the other direction with their heads down. I asked them, “Did you see dolphins?” She said, “Really?!” and he asked, “Where?” The woman did not see them at first, so he pointed to them for her. I left them to their own excitement and walked on.
It bothered me that so many others on the beach were missing the show. Some were tanning themselves, others throwing a football or frisbee, and others were staring into their cell phones. I wanted to yell at them through a megaphone, “You’re missing a miracle!”

I did not give myself this life I have
– I have not earned it, do not deserve it, and I do not sustain it
– life is a gift — “and underneath are the everlasting arms”

Conclusion: God reminded Israel that from birth he carried them

And even to their gray hairs he would carry them
– I wonder what will become of me,
• as I age and continue to decline in strength, mental acuity, mobility and influence?
– I have memories from childhood of falling asleep in the family car
• when we would arrive home, Dad would gather me into his arms, carry me into the house and put me to bed
• I can remember being in his strong arms
◦ feeling secure, comfortable, relaxed

That was my first helplessness
– in old age I’ll come to my last helplessness
• again someone take my hand and lead me
◦ feed me, dress me, and help me into bed
◦ all through, from birth to old age, God holds me
• and I am secure in God’s everlasting arms
◦ his arms are my symbol of trust

Trust the arms of the One
who made,
who carries,
who rescues,
and who loves us beyond imagination.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Ps. 90:1-2)

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