Accidental Covenant

For the week of January 29, 2022 / 27 Shevat 5782

Message info and Canadian coat of arms

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 21:1 – 24:18
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26

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The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people in Jerusalem to make a proclamation of liberty to them (Jeremiah 34:8)

This week, I would like to address “my home and native land,” to borrow a line from the Canadian national anthem. But first, let me set up the biblical background to the serious situation we find ourselves in today. The Haftarah reading from the prophet Jeremiah has to do with his confronting of King Zedekiah. These readings from the Hebrew prophets are generally chosen based on some connection to the weekly Torah portion. The current portion includes specific instructions about the limited terms of service for Hebrew slaves. They were to only serve six years and be released in the seventh. In Jeremiah’s day, the king made a decree in keeping with these Torah directives only to rescind them soon afterward. This resulted in God’s giving Jeremiah a harsh message of judgement to deliver to the king.

It’s with a sense of caution that I now seek to connect this story to contemporary Canada. Covenant with God is nothing to take lightly. But what does that have to do with Canada? Emblazoned on our coat of arms are the Latin words, “a mari usque ad mare” (“from sea to sea’) taken from Psalm 72:8 (“May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth”). Applying this verse to the fledgling nation was suggested by Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick. The Psalm originally refers to King Solomon and is his prayer for the establishment of his rule according to borders delineated by God. Tilly was most likely thinking of the eventual expansion of Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Be that as it may, the adopting of “a mari usque ad mare” as the official Canadian motto establishes a connection of our country to the Bible.

These same words, but more fully and in English, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea” (KJV), are also etched into the front of the large clock tower in the center-front of our houses of parliament. On the other two sides of the same tower are the verses: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!” (Psalm 72:1; KJV) and “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV). From what I understand, these Scriptures were not officially mandated by the government of the day but were inscribed by the builders anyway. When they were  unveiled, they weren’t removed. Despite contrary sentiments, our parliamentary houses have declared these truths since 1927 when the tower was inaugurated.

This connection to God’s written word eventually found itself woven into the foundation of our legal system in 1982, when our current constitution became law. The introductory sentence of the Canadian constitution reads, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”.

I am aware that this reference to God is generic, but from this country’s earliest days, there was no question that “God” was the God of the Bible. And since this God is the only God anyway, it is he who is referenced no matter how anyone may try to interpret it.

As for the “rule of law,” whether or not people are aware of it, it is a principle of governance deeply rooted in the Bible.

Samuel Tilley may have been dreaming about a railway system that would one day be the backbone of an ongoing British presence from sea to sea despite American aspirations, yet he drew Canada into an accidental covenant with the God of Israel.

To deny, ignore, or reinterpret, these biblical connections is to undermine the foundations of our country. Even without these accidents of history, God through the Messiah is the true sovereign over all nations. But when a country acknowledges these truths only to later neglect them creates a most precarious situation. It is one thing to dwell in the darkness, it is another to have embraced the light only to close one’s eyes to it.

The very fabric of this great nation is at risk of completely unravelling unless there is a turning back to the biblical truths upon which it once stood. That begins with each and every Canadian upon whose hearts God’s Word is engraved.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated


Eagles’ Wings

For the week of January 22, 2022 / 20 Shevat 5782

Illustration of a flying eagle with mountains and rainbow in the background

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 18:1 – 20:23 (English: 18:1 – 20:26)
Haftarah: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5
Originally posted the week of February 15, 2020 / 20 Shevat 5780

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You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. (Shemot/Exodus 19:4)

This has to be one of the more beautiful metaphors in the entire Bible. Israel, oppressed from generations under Egyptian taskmasters, helpless to alleviate their plight, cry out to the God of their ancestors for deliverance. The years go by and things go from bad to worse. Then the day comes; God to the rescue! Despite all odds, the Master of the Universe swoops down seemingly out of nowhere and miraculously carries the nation on his back to freedom.

Beautiful metaphor indeed, but that’s not what happened. Miraculous, yes. However it was much more of a process and a difficult one at that. From Moses’ first being given the exodus mandate to getting support from the Hebrew elders to Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to the ten plagues, culminating in the death of Egypt’s firstborn and their departure. Not completely free of their oppressors, they are then pursued by the Egyptian army that drowned in the parting of the Red Sea, while Israel made it safely to the other side. While this finally disconnected the liberated slaves from Egypt for good, the difficult process continued as they were learning to trust God for his miraculous provision and care in an uninhabitable wilderness on their way to Mt. Sinai and the Promised Land.

What is this about eagles’ wings then? I could imagine scholars musing over how such an image is nothing more than a mythic version of the exodus put into God’s mouth centuries after the fact. I am very aware how after a period of time the sting of hardship fades from memory and we just remember the good parts – and then the good parts are remembered so much better than they actually were. The problem with this train of thought is that the painful details weren’t forgotten. They have been well-documented and preserved from then until now.

How then could such an expression as “I bore you on eagles’ wings” be appropriate? Perhaps we picture riding on eagles differently from the Israelites of old. They wouldn’t share our Hollywood-influenced view of such an experience. In my mind I see the film version of Lord of the Rings, where near the end of this epic, Gandalf rescues Frodo and Sam with gigantic eagles that scoop them up with their talons, carrying them to safety as they blissfully soar through the sky. The Israelites, on the other hand, likely have related to “eagles’ wings” differently. Whether they pictured normal-sized eagles which would not be accustomed to carrying such loads or gigantic ones that are more the stuff of nightmares than what we see in Lord of the Rings, the image evoked may not have been a nice one. Instead, it might have included the precarious nature of the process they had to endure.

A more likely possibility is that the eagles’ wing picture of God’s rescue reflects the outcome and purpose of the exodus, not the process. This metaphor evokes an image of God’s intense and personal activity in bringing the people to Mt. Sinai where he would reveal his will to them, constitute them as a nation, and send them on a mission to establish themselves in the Promised Land. While the process was difficult, the outcome was never in question. He did whatever it took to accomplish his will. While the process was never forgotten, the impossibility and success of the exodus makes being carried through the sky an apt image after all.

No wonder many years later the prophet Isaiah would recall such a picture to encourage his generation of Israelites that their divine rescue was coming: “but they who wait (meaning “hope”) for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:1). In this case the people themselves become eagle-like as the power of God fills them with his powerful presence. But remember eagle-like doesn’t automatically mean easy or simple. Yet, however difficult the process may be, God will get you to where you need to go.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Go Forward

For the week of January 15, 2022 / 13 Shevat 5782

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 13:17 – 17:16
Haftarah: Shoftim/Judges 4:4 – 5:31
Updated version of message originally posted the week of January 23, 2016 / 13 Shevat 5776

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The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.” (Shemot/Exodus 14:15)

The people of Israel were between a rock and a hard place, metaphorically speaking. They were actually between an impassible body of water and the Egyptian army keen on dragging them back to Egypt. An interesting interchange ensues between Moses and God. Well, actually, it’s not an interchange. The people freak out, thinking that they are about to be slaughtered, Moses reassures them, but then God tells Moses what to do, contradicting him in the process. Let’s look at this more closely.

Moses said to the people: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Shemot/Exodus 14:13-14). Based on everything Moses knew about God up to that moment—his character, his power, and his methodology—this sounds so right. Moses knew how fundamentally misguided the people’s freak-out was. God didn’t bring them to this point only to abandon them. Moses knew that he was leading them to Sinai and on to the Promised Land. So, this couldn’t be the end. How God would rescue them, he didn’t know, but after all that had happened with the ten plagues and a reasonable analysis of the situation, Moses concluded that all Israel had to do was to do nothing, except stand. God would take care of the situation all by himself.

But with all due respect to Moses, he was wrong. They were not just to stand there; they were to “go forward.” I know Moses was also told: “Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground” (Shemot/Exodus 14:16), but the people were not to wait for the sea to part first, but rather they were to march toward the sea.

God was calling the people to readjust their orientation to the situation. He had called them to journey in a certain direction, which required getting to the other side of the water. But instead, they were frozen by fear. They needed to refocus and get with God’s program again.

Note that God was not calling them into the water before it parted. He might call people to do that from time to time, but not in this case. They simply had to move in its direction. He also didn’t order them to turn around and confront the enemy nipping at their heels. The day would come when Israel would engage in battle, but not now. In this situation they had to go forward.

I remember a situation I was in where I was called to go forward. It was nowhere near drastic as what the Israelites were facing. But for me at the time the dynamic was similar. I was at a large leaders’ conference, a pretty intense time of seeking God. I was privileged to be part of the core group tasked with discerning direction for the various meetings. I was new to such things and probably a little too excited about it all. In one of the core group meetings, I felt a real burden over something, but once I finally had a chance to speak out, I got the impression (right or wrong) that I was out of line. I felt absolutely terrible and embarrassed. I went to my hotel room, not wanting to show my face in public again (I am being only a little overdramatic!). As I called out to the Lord in my fear and confusion, I had the clear sense that I needed to go forward. That meant joining the others to face whatever might happen, whatever others might think of me, whatever reprimand I might receive, whatever. I had no guaranty of how God would deal with the scary elements ahead of me. I simply had to face them. And as I did, nothing I feared came to pass. My sea had parted as I went forward.

I am concerned that too many of us are frozen in place right now. We’ve have been disoriented by fear of sickness and death along with constantly changing restrictions. Waiting for it all to be over is not God’s will. What is God’s will for you right now, I can’t say. But I do know he wants you to keep moving forward in whatever direction he is calling you to.

We were not to be distracted by the threats and obstacles of life before and we are not to be distracted by them now. Perhaps we were too comfortable with the way things were before the current crisis. We are not used to our lives being so constricted. But God hasn’t changed. With him, there is always a way forward. We just need to find out what that is.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version