Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The God of Abraham

Image from thebooksoffoundation.blogspot.ca
Sorry for the lag in posting. It has been the season for house guests, family events, starting new courses, various meetings, and travel. So it's a week later than it should be, but here is a summary of the second talk I gave on Names of God. This time I decided to tackle the recurring phrase, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," which appears often in the scriptures, especially the Hebrew Bible. Once I got into it, I realised that I could only really cover one name at a time, so here is my take on what "The God of Abraham..." means.

The first task when exploring this phrase, at least in my mind, is to familiarise ourselves with the story of Abraham (who starts out as Abram). You can read it in Genesis 11:27 to the end of Genesis 23. After this, the story switches to focus on Abraham's son, Isaac. It would be best if you took the time to read it yourself, but let me offer a very brief summary here. God called Abram (then aged 75) to engage in a covenant with YHWH. Here is the gist of it:

The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family; and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:1-3) Abram's wife, Sarai, was 65 years old at this time and they had no children. And being a nomadic people, neither did they have any land.

Abram sets out, taking his nephew Lot with him. Already he has failed to stick to the covenant (leave your relatives behind). As the story continues to unfold we can pick out a few recurring themes: 1) God reiterates his promises often, adding more details and reassurances as time goes on. 2) The second theme is one of worship. At many points along the way Abram builds an altar and worships God, often in response to reassurance of God's promises. 3) The third theme is that the good is mixed in with the bad. Abram does some things well and gets other things really wrong. There is faithfulness and trust intermingled with insecurity, fear, and wrong turns. Some of the missteps include passing off his wife as his sister in order to avoid trouble, parting ways with his nephew Lot who then gets in a lot of trouble (sorry for the horrible pun), going along with Sarai's idea to have a son by her maid, Hagar because at the 10-year mark in to the covenant, nothing was happening in the descendant department. This resulted in great grief for all parties involved and we see some pretty bad behaviour all around.

A side note here is that the pregnant Hagar is mistreated and runs away, finding herself alone in the desert. She calls out for help and God (El-Roi, the God who sees me) answers with a promise that she and her son will be okay.

At the 24 year mark of the covenant, still no land and no descendants are in sight, however God changes the name of Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of nations) and Sarai (princess) is changed to Sarah (mother of nations). And finally, at the 25 year mark, Sarah has a son and names him Isaac (laughter). The final installment in this story (in my truncated version) is the test of Abraham. Here we see God asking Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son (this practice was not uncommon in the pagan religions of the time). When Abraham does not hesitate to offer his son, an angel of God stops him. A ram caught in the bush becomes the sacrifice instead. To me, this story is not so much a test of Abraham as a revelation of who God is. God (in contrast to the demanding pagan gods) is a God who does not require the sacrifice of a son, but in fact, gives his own son as a sacrifice for the world. This story points to a God who provides (here we find the name YHWH Yireh = God Provides). At the end of Genesis 23 Sarah dies at the age of 127. Abraham negotiates to purchase a plot of land in Canaan (near Hebron) to bury her. He now has land as well as a son. It is the beginning of a great and grand story of a nation.

So who is the God of Abraham?
1. This is a God who calls people to a new life, a life of adventure. It means leaving what we know, being able to receive blessing, and then transmitting the blessing freely to others.
2. This is a God who makes covenants and binding promises and keeps them. Another side note here. There are basically three types of ancient covenants: 1) A Parity Covenant is between two equal parties. 2) A Suzerainty Covenant is between a greater power and a lesser power where the greater power places obligations and restrictions on the lesser power. 3) A Royal Grant is also between a greater power and a lesser power; here the greater power bestows free gifts (often land) and benefits on the lesser power for faithful and loyal service. Though much of the Levitical laws tend to read like a Suzerainty Covenant, I believe that they are all part of a Royal Grant type of covenant, a gift given by God, benefits which we could never hope to earn or merit. This is because God not only wants to reward faithfulness but also desires to cultivate it in us.
3. This is a God who keeps reminding people of his promises, adding details and answering questions and doubts.
4. This is a God who changes identities.
5. This is a God who is faithful, but this must be viewed over a long period of time. Don't look for instant fulfillment.
6. This is a God who is not deterred by human error, multiple detours, or seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
7. This is a God who makes things right and provides justice for the oppressed.
8. This is a God who gives himself.

The faithfulness of God is always unfolding in our stories. Let us not be impatient with God but instead, choose to participate in acts of faithfulness throughout the journey.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Names of God

The Hebrew word "YHWH" (read from right to left)
This past Sunday I gave a talk on the Names of God, the beginning of a series on this topic. This first talk was to be a gentle introduction so I thought it wouldn't take too many hours of preparation. Well, I quickly discovered that the research is almost bottomless; every time I thought I had a somewhat definitive list of names, I found another source which added a few more or gave a different twist on some of the names I had already come across. After several hours I was getting overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data (and that was only looking at the Hebrew Bible). I wondered how I could present this to people in an orderly and accessible fashion and within a reasonable time frame. Not everyone is up for a 3-hour lecture crammed full of detail on a Sunday morning.

So I took a break and spent a bit of time meditating on this problem and asking the Spirit for guidance. And then I thought that being overwhelmed by God was perhaps a good thing. In the English language, we have quite a thin concept of God, something like this: "a superhuman being or spirit worshiped as having power over nature or human fortunes." In our culture, a name is mostly a means of identification, but in biblical times, a name told you something about a person's identity. So when we come across the many different names of God in scripture, they tell us who God is, what God does, and how this God is different from all other gods. These names paint a sort of multi-dimensional portrait which lets us see God from many angles and in many situations. And the names are not just a list of descriptors; behind every name is a story, a living example of God acting and relating to people and the world.

The four basic names used for God in the Hebrew Bible are:
1. YHWH (translated as Yahweh, Jehovah, LORD). This word is used over 6500 times and means "Existing One" or "Eternal One." It is derived from the verb "to be" or "to exist." In Hebrew tradition, it is the holy name of God, too holy to speak except by the high priest in the temple (this is why the pronunciation of it is unclear). Because this is the name introduced in the second creation story in Genesis 2, it speaks of the closeness of God to humanity (forming humans, breathing life into them).
2. Elohim. This name is used about 2600 times, is in plural form (which gives space for trinitarian interpretations), and basically means "god," inferring Strong One, Judge of the Universe, Creator. This is the name found in Genesis 1 in the first creation story.
3. Adonai. This word is used just over 430 times and means "lord" or "master." It is mostly found in plural form when referring to God. The singular (adon) is used mostly for human males. David calls Saul adon and Sarah calls her husband adon. It always infers the possessive and should be translated "my lord."
4. Immanuel. This name is only used twice and refers to the Messiah. It means "God with us" and speaks of a tribe, people, and togetherness.

An interesting side note here is that in Hebrew the verb "to be" is not used very often. When used, it indicates that the subject is doing something which defines it. For instance, if I were to say "Dean is in the kitchen," I would not merely be telling you where he is, but telling you that cooking for guests and enjoying good food IS what Dean is about. It is who Dean is. It is Dean-like behaviour. So when God says to Moses, "I am who I am," in part it refers to knowing God by his actions.

What we find throughout the Hebrew Bible are many names of God, many of them linking YHWH with Elohim (usually translated as LORD God). As well, both of these names are often linked to descriptors. It is actually quite eye-opening to read the Names of God Bible (2011) which includes transliterations of the ancient names. It gives the reader a sense of richness when it comes to knowing who God is, much more than is evident in English. The names reveal who this God is both through word (the descriptive names) and action (the accompanying stories).

I came across something a few weeks ago which talked about God having an identity that sought not simply to achieve tangible results, but to "forge inexhaustible relationships."[1] I like that and I believe looking at the different God-names is a step in this direction. Below is a list of compound names of God found in the Hebrew Bible. It is not exhaustive but a pretty good start. Some of these names are only used once, some make more frequent appearances, but I invite you to read through this list and let yourself be overwhelmed. Let yourself by mystified. Let yourself be undone. And if a name jumps out at you, perhaps you want to ask God to reveal that aspect of his character to you in a deeper way. Let us bring ourselves into this inexhaustible relationship.

El-Elyon: God Most High
El-Haggadol: The Great God
El-Gibbor: Mighty God, warrior, champion
El-De'ot: God of knowledge
El-Yeshurun: God of a righteous people
El-Hakkavod: God of Glory
El-Hakkadosh: Holy God
El-Hashamayim: God of the heavens
El-Chaiyai: God of my Life
El-Channun: Gracious God
El-Yisrael: God of Israel
El-Sali: God of my strength
El-Rachum: God of compassion (womb)
El-malei Rachamim: All merciful God
El-Yeshuati: God of salvation
El-Yeshuatenu: God of our salvation
El-Kanno: Jealous God
El-Olam: Eternal God
El-Roi: God who sees
El-Shaddai: Lord God Almighty, God the all-sufficient One
El-Hannora: the Awesome God
YHWH Nissi: The Lord my Banner
YHWH Rapha: The Lord Heals
YHWH Shammah: The Lord is There
YHWH Tsidkenu: The Lord our Righteousness
YHWH Mekoddishkem: The Lord who Sanctifies you
YHWH Jireh: The Lord will Provide
YHWH Shalom: The Lord is Peace
YHWH Sabaoth: Lord of Hosts, Armies
YHWH Adon Kal Ha'arets: Lord of Earth
YHWH Bara: Lord Creator
YHWH Chatsahi: Lord my Strength
YHWH Chereb: Lord the Sword
YHWH Eli: Lord my God
YHWH Elyon: Lord Most High
YHWH Gador Milchamah: Lord mighty in battle
YHWH Ganan: Lord our Defense
YHWH Go'el: Lord my Redeemer
YHWH Hamalech: Lord King
YHWH Hashopet: Lord my Judge
YHWH Helech 'Olam: Lord King Forever
YHWH Hoshe'ah: Lord Saves
YHWH Kabodhi: Lord my Glory
YHWH Kanna: Lord Jealous
YHWH Keren Yish'i: Lord Horn of Salvation
YHWH M'Kaddesh: Lord Sanctifier
YHWH Machsi: Lord my Refuge
YHWH Magen: Lord my Shield
YHWH Ma'oz: Lord my Fortress
YHWH Mephalti: Lord my Deliverer
YHWH Metshodhathi: Lord my Fortress
YHWH Misqabbi: Lord my High Tower
YHWH Naheh: Lord who Smites
YHWH Rohi: Lord Shepherd
YHWH Sel'i: Lord my Rock
YHWH Tsori: Lord my Strength
YHWH Yasha: Lord my Savior
YHWH 'Ez-Lami: Lord my Strength
YHWH 'Immeku: Lord is with you
YHWH 'Izoa Hakaboth: Lord Strong Mighty
YHWH 'Ori: Lord my Light
YHWH 'Uzam: Lord Strength in Trouble

[1] Living Without Enemies by Samuel Wells and Marcia A. Owen.

Monday, August 18, 2014

too little too much just enough

Image from dreamtouchrenovations.com
I am knee-deep in writing my doctoral thesis. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that the water is just beginning to lap at my ankles, but nevertheless, I wade into the muck of words on a regular basis and try to move forward. Moving forward is sometimes a bit complicated. A few weeks ago, our air conditioner did a very good impersonation of Niagara Falls and and spewed water all over the stairway. After taking the machine apart and fixing it for the eleven-hundredth time (it is old and needs tender loving care on a regular basis), I checked out the storage space underneath the stairs and found that the water had seeped through the floor and specks of mould were beginning to form on the drywall. Oh oh! It was the day before we were leaving for vacation, so we couldn't deal with it immediately.

This past week we removed everything from the storage room (who knew such a small space could house a gazillion boxes of stuff that I didn't even remember we had?), dried out the wet stuff, went through everything, and decided whether we should keep it, sell it, shred it, or simply toss it in the garbage.

I used the past tense there because it makes me feel better. In truth, this process is very much in the present, continuous tense. Much of the house is taken over by boxes and plastic storage bins containing financial records, old files and photo albums, vinyl records, cassettes, VHS tapes, a hammock, and 28 small drinking glasses, all in various stages of drying, being sorted, being sold, or waiting to be thrust into the dreaded shredder. It's kind of like moving without actually going anywhere. Oh, and did I mention I have house guests arriving next week? Surprise!

In theory, I like surprises. As surprises go, this one is not so bad. After the initial sharp intake of breath and the natural reflex of tightening one's shoulders to brace for disaster, I am taking it in stride. I have found that I can actually work on my thesis surrounded by half-packed boxes and general untidiness, at least temporarily. And one of the wonders of nature is that things just naturally dry out after being exposed to fresh air for a few days. In addition, we have lovely large garbage bins at the back of our parking lot which are hungry for all kinds of moist cardboard and smelly refuse. Best of all, we are simplifying life a bit and that is actually one of the reasons why I like moving every few years: it keeps life from getting too cluttered. This situation has once again brought up two challenges which I continue to face.

First, I am one of those people who can be prone to feeling like I lack something: I don't have enough love, enough patience, enough smarts, enough energy, enough cats ... you catch my drift. It is helpful to remind myself that Jesus is enough. I read the Matthew account of Jesus feeding the five thousand this morning and it became an invitation to peace, to rest, to thankfulness, to not panicking. The story shows us that contrary to our urge to accumulate things (Hey! We need more fishes and more loaves!), Jesus's way is to take what we have and show us that it is enough. Not because we are enough, but because Jesus is enough.

Second, I am also prone to feeling like it is all too much. I get short of breath when my house is cluttered, when too many people are talking, when I am faced with multiple tasks that demand action all at the same time, and when there is very little silence or space to move. Many times I don't want more (unless it is popcorn), I want less. That same story of Jesus feeding the five thousand begins with Jesus receiving the horrible news that his cousin, John, has just been killed in a gruesome manner. Jesus retreats to have some alone time, but people follow him and soon there is a crowd, eager for miracles. Jesus does what I find nearly impossible to do: he has compassion on people when he is the one who needs compassion. He spends all day healing the sick and then he feeds the crowd. Jesus takes "too much" and makes it really simple. He has compassion. He takes care of the people in front of him. And then he goes to the mountain and talks to God. (See Matthew 14)

Where I have lack, Jesus is enough. When life is too much, Jesus can make it simple. This is my prayer today.

Friday, August 08, 2014

take me to your leader

roundtable
Image from http://oisedeansconference.wordpress.com/
Last week Dean and I (along with a bunch of others from Montreal) went to the Vineyard National Celebration, a gathering of Vineyard churches from all across Canada. This big family party only takes place every four years and this time it was in Kitchener. It was a blast! We saw people we have not seen in years, made new friends, ate together, talked, prayed, worshiped God together, and even slept a bit here and there.

Lots of cool things happened but one of the most significant take-aways for me had to do with leadership. Cheryl Bear, an award-winning recording artist, singer, songwriter, and storyteller who comes from the NadlehWhut'en First Nation in British Columbia (that's what her website says), spoke to the large gathering one night. She and her husband have been making their way across North America with the goal of visiting all the First Nations communities; so far they have visited about 600 out of 1000. Let me share one of the stories she told. She was at a First nations community in a gathering of some sort. She mentioned to someone that she wanted to meet the elders and was told that they would take her to them because she wouldn't know where to find them. Cheryl responded that she knew exactly where to find them and made her way to the back of the room. There she observed a line of older gentlemen standing quietly against the wall. She introduced herself and yes, indeed, these men were the elders of the tribe. How did she know? She explained to us that the First Nation model of leadership is to wait to be invited to a place of honour, to a place at the front. They do not assume it is theirs to take. This is strikingly similar to something Jesus says in Luke 14. Read it.

This recognition of authority resonated deeply with me. I also am uncomfortable with aggressively assuming a position of leadership, grabbing the spotlight, taking charge, sitting at the head of the table and commanding attention. That just doesn't sit well with me. But this laid-back, waiting style is a bit counter-intuitive in our Western culture. If you stand at the back and wait for recognition you might grow old while waiting. If you sit back quietly and wait to be called on, you will probably never get noticed. Or so it seems.

During the course of the national gathering, I was involved in several meetings with those in the Vineyard who are invested in theological education. We are at a pivotal point in developing new resources and refreshing old ones, hoping to make good quality theological education more accessible to a wide variety of people. One of the meetings was an attempt to get everyone involved in the different initiatives in the same room in order to find a way forward in which we would all work together instead of reinventing the wheel or spreading our resources too thin. Since there had been some lack of communication about recent developments and some past frictions, there was a bit of tension in the room. I am one of the new kids on the block in terms of theological education (and one of the few females) so I was content to mostly listen. The room was full of dynamic and forceful personalities (lots of pastors and teachers who have been at this much longer than I have) and there was seldom a quiet moment, people jumping in one after the other with their comments. At one point I raised my hand (yes, I tend to do that) and said, "I have a question..." but the force of the conversation was already moving in another direction and there were many voices in the mix, so when I was not acknowledged, I just let it go. It wasn't a big deal.

Some moments later, the chairperson of the meeting interrupted the discussion and said, "We haven't heard from Matte yet. Do you have anything to add?" I sat silent for a moment and so did the room. Not sure where to start, I turned to the chairperson and said, "Thank you. You're so nice." He responded, "I'm not being nice. This is important." I was a bit stunned, but I gathered my thoughts and said I had mixed feelings about the discussion. Then I asked the question that I had tried to insert earlier. It was quickly answered, and I started to add a comment but was cut off by another eager participant. The chairperson stopped everything again and brought it back to me, indicating that I still had the floor. I voiced a few thoughts on the matters at hand and talked about what seemed to work in our community. Then someone asked if they could make a comment. The chairperson indicated that it was up to me whether to give to floor to someone else. I gladly invited the person to make his comment and the discussion continued from there, everyone seemingly a bit slower to jump into the fray and a bit quicker to listen.

Afterwards, I spoke to some of my colleagues who had been in the meeting and they remarked on the chairperson's actions and how it brought them up short. In a good way. I felt extremely honoured that someone had made space for my voice, deeming it important, and I realized that I loved the style of leadership that had been modeled, a leadership which makes room for voices that might otherwise be overlooked. I want to be the type of leader who gives a place of honour to the "least of these" (Matthew 25) and a leader who embraces humility more than bravado or aggressiveness. I want to be a person who is an excellent listener and makes space for other voices, especially those who might be overlooked. I want to lead like Jesus.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

need some rest?

 Wallpaper cat, yawn, lie, fluffy
Image from wallpaperscraft.com
We didn't take a winter vacation this year and I can tell. There is an underlying, low level of fatigue that I just can't seem to get rid of. Most of our vacation days this year will be spent attending events: a wedding, a family celebration, and next week we will be going to a church conference. All good things, indeed, but they end up not being all that restful for me.

I have been trying to figure out this "rest" thing in the past few months and yesterday while I was on the subway going to the beach (to get some rest), I read something that made me realize that rest is not an event, either. Rest is not a day at the beach. Rest is not a week at a resort. Rest is not a weekend at the cottage. Rest is not something I can simply schedule in and then - BAM - it is done! Going on vacation or taking a day off is great, but it may or may not be restful. It may end up just being another event.

So how do I enter into rest? Essentially, rest is the ability to lay down my burdens. Burdens can take many forms: all the things that call out for my attention and demand my concerted effort, all those problems which take up brain space by causing me to always be searching for creative and effective solutions, or all those nagging past mistakes which make me overly cautious or hesitant or self-critical. These are some of the burdens which keep me from rest.

But really, rest is possible anywhere, anytime. I know that for me, rest is closely tied to wonder and beauty, because it is in the place of simple appreciation, in expressions of childlike delight and surprise, and in stunned or sweet silence, that I am my most trusting. I am at rest when I stare at the clouds and go, "Wow!" I am at rest when I run along a beach and squeal with delight as the ocean licks at my toes. I am at rest when I notice a new flower has lifted its fragile head to the sun. I am at rest when I see my cat stretching and stop whatever I am doing to touch her soft fur. In these moments, I am alive. I am so overcome by the goodness around me that I join with the Creator and take time to simply enjoy it.

May my day be filled with many restful moments today. Moments when I look around me, listen carefully, breathe deeply, and enjoy the gift of being alive.

"And this is why we walk this road: to behold the wonder and savor this aliveness. To remind ourselves who we are, where we are, what's going on here, and how beautiful, precious, holy, and meaningful it all is. It's why we pause along the journey for a simple meal, with hearts full of thankfulness, rejoicing to be part of this beautiful and good creation. This is what it means to be alive."  - Brian D. McLaren, We Make the Road By Walking (Jericho Books, 2014), 6.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Lesson in Timing: ripe for the picking

A: Knock, knock!
B: Who's there?
A: Interrupting cow
B: Interrupting c---
A: Moooooooooo!

Timing is tricky. In comedy. In music. In cooking. In relationships. In life. Sometimes it is hard to know when the time is right for action and when it is better to wait. Let's ask the tomatoes for wisdom.

I am not the world's greatest gardener by any means, but I have grown quite a few things in my day; when I was a child on the farm, my mother had the generous foresight to assign me two rows in her garden every year to plant whatever my little heart desired. So I grew the things I loved: corn, peas, watermelon, and one year, a whole row of bright red poppies.

Now that I live in an urban setting, I grow things in pots on my balcony. This year I planted Sweet 'n' Neat Cherry tomatoes. The plant is doing better than I anticipated: very early it started to produce bunches of little green balls. Each day I go out, water it, and check for ripe fruit. Just because a tomato is red doesn't mean it is ripe. The test I use to check if fruit is ready to pick is this: I gently cup it in my hand and move it back and forth a bit; if it freely drops off the stem, it is ripe. If there is some resistance, I leave it for another day.

I think the tomatoes tell us something important about timing. If we are looking for the juiciest and sweetest fruit, it is best to wait till it is ripe. If you have ever tasted a tomato ripened on the vine and then a tomato ripened on the truck or in the store, you will know that the difference in taste is significant. I find that the same often goes for life. If we believe the time is right for something, we can put our hand to it, give it a gentle nudge. If it surrenders to us, it is ready. If there is resistance, perhaps we should let it be for a bit longer.

I am not talking about circumstances aligning perfectly in life (they seldom do) but more about maturity and surrender, both on the part of the fruit and on the part of the harvester. I have tried to force many things (picked fruit before it was ripe, went ahead with a plan before people were ready, rushed unprepared into a situation because it felt urgent, tried to bring correction into a fragile friendship, etc.). It made for a bumpy ride; sometimes things worked out after a bit of adjustment, other times it was a pretty big mess. I have learned that some of the things I think are urgent are just expressions of my impatience or misplaced passion. I have learned that it is usually better to wait a bit and go together than to forge ahead early and alone. I have learned that focusing on solid foundations and shared values is important, and that including people in the process of change builds a much healthier community than racing ahead with new ideas. I have learned that until I learn the art of surrender, I cannot expect it from anyone else.

When fruit is ripe, it surrenders. This surrender is part of the natural process of growth, maturity, and change. What am I ready to surrender to? What is ready to surrender its fruit in my life?

My tomato plant this morning

Monday, July 07, 2014

Daniel in the Lions' Den

Daniel's Answer to the King by Briton RiviƩre (1890)
This past Sunday I finished my series on the stories in the book of Daniel. The last one is a familiar story, in fact, when I asked if anyone had ever heard it or read it, virtually everyone in the room raised their hands. You can read it in Daniel 6, but let me briefly summarize it here.

A new King, Darius, is ruling over Babylon where Daniel has spent most of his life as an expatriate (not by his choice, I might add). Darius is a smart and powerful man, and he sets up a hierarchy of officers and governors to ensure that he maintains control over this newly conquered land. Daniel finds favour with the king and quickly rises to prominence. This leaves the other leaders with a bad taste in their mouths (yep, it's jealousy) so they hatch a plot to get rid of Daniel. Since they can find no fault in his work, they decide to attack his loyalty to Jehovah, the God of the Jews. It's pretty easy to convince a king addicted to power to issue an edict which declares that he alone should be worshiped for the next thirty days. And it was just as easy to walk in on Daniel in the midst of his daily prayer routine after the edict was issued. When the malcontent leaders brought their charges against Daniel, serious charges of disobeying the king's direct order, the king was very upset. The last thing he wanted to do was get rid of his most valued leader, but he could not reverse the edict.

Reluctantly, the king had Daniel tossed into a den full of hungry lions to meet his fate. The king uttered some final words to Daniel, "May your God, the God you have served so faithfully, rescue you," and then spent a sleepless night troubled by the unfortunate turn of events.  The next morning the king was out at the lions' den first thing, calling out, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, the One you have served so faithfully, been able to rescue you from these hungry lions?" Daniel responded that, yes indeed, God had rescued him. The king was beside himself with joy. After Daniel had been extricated from the den, the king issued an order for the conspirators and their households to be tossed to the lions. They were not as fortunate as Daniel and lost their lives. Darius then drew up another edict and instead of commanding people to worship him, insisted that all people fear the God of Daniel. The story ends with Daniel continuing to thrive under Darius.

As I was researching this chapter, I came across several articles which identified a chiastic structure in the story. This is a literary device especially common in ancient literature such as the Bible. Basically, chiastic structure is an inverted parallelism used to add emphasis and bring clarity. As contemporary readers, we are taught to look for the main point at the beginning or the end, but the chiastic structure places the focal point in the middle (like the juicy meat in a sandwich).

Here is one example of the chiastic structure in Matthew 6:24 (taken from Thomas B. Clarke).
A  No one can serve two masters
     B  either he will hate the one
         C  and love the other
         C' or he will be devoted to one
    B' and despise the other
A' You cannot serve both God and money

The parallel phrases are identified by corresponding letters. To modern readers, this verse seems to be pitting God against Money, as if they are in opposition, but the chiastic structure reveals that the central idea has to do with love and loving the right master, not with a power struggle. Pretty cool, right?

So what happens when we look at the story of Daniel and the lions' den through the chiastic lens? What becomes central to the story is not the happy ending for Daniel and the justice served to the evil conspirators, but the reaction of Darius. Let me draw on the work of Biblical scholar, Wayne S. Towner, for the parallels in the story.

A  Introduction: Daniel's success (v. 1-3)
    B  Darius's edict and Daniel's response (v. 4-10)
        C  Daniel's opponents plot his death (v. 11-15)
            D  Darius hopes for Daniel's deliverance (v. 16-18)
            D' Darius witnesses Daniel's deliverance (v. 19-23)
        C' Daniel's opponents sentenced to death (v. 24)
    B' Darius's edict and doxology (v. 25-27)
A' Conclusion: Daniel's success (v. 29)

While deliverance is definitely a focal point, the person most affected is not Daniel, but Darius. Daniel seems rather unperturbed about his fate; he serves at the pleasure of High King Jehovah and at this point in his life (he is in his eighties) knows that while kings are fickle, God is faithful. However, Daniel's faithfulness to God and God's faithfulness to Daniel result in remarkable changes in King Darius. Here are the ones I noted:

1. Darius has HOPE that Daniel's God is the real thing. In contrast to the culture of power and competition that Darius lives in, Daniel and his relationship with God are based in trust and friendship. This paradigm, so foreign to a conquering king, is nevertheless extremely attractive to him.
2. Darius is a WITNESS to the faithfulness of God. This is due to Daniel's refusal to hide or downplay his devotion to God. It is also due to Daniel's willingness to suffer at the hands of faithless men for this supreme loyalty.
3. Darius exhibits JOY and EXCITEMENT at the deliverance of Daniel from certain death. Darius saw a demonstration of values directly opposite to those of his cutthroat world and it gave him joy! Darius declared that Jehovah's kingdom would never be overthrown, in effect recognizing that here was a power greater than his own. Quite a statement coming from a king who had overthrown a few kingdoms himself.

Like Daniel, I am someone who lives in a land other than the one in which they were brought up (life as an expat). It is not always easy to live in a foreign place, but Daniel shows us how to do this in a way that not only honours God but is good news for our current place of residence.

Inspired by this story, here is a prayer I wrote for expats:

Let us be bringers of HOPE to the world.
Let us allow people to WITNESS the faithfulness of God in our lives (and not hide it).
Let JOY and EXCITEMENT follow us as we live as citizens of the kingdom of God.
Let us operate from TRUST and FRIENDSHIP instead of power and competition.
Let this land be a better place because we are here.