Wednesday, June 3, 2009
A SAD CITY
I'm feeling a little melancholy tonight, not sad, just melancholy. Maybe it's just because I'm tired or maybe because my Israel adventure is coming to an end or I'm just longing to be home. Whatever the source of my mood the following is the story of a sad city, the ancient city of Beth Shan where we visited today. In the Scriptures we first hear about Beth Shan as one of the Canaanite cities that was never driven out of the land when Israel came to take possession of the promised land (Judges 1:27). Beth Shan was eventually conquered, but not by Israel, but by the persistent enemy of Saul and David, those nasty Philistines. In 1 Samuel 31 the Philistines eventually got the best of Saul and his son, Jonathan. It says that “the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa” (1 Sam. 31:1). By the way Mount Gilboa is easily seen as you drive around the Jezreel Valley like we have been doing in our bus. The Philistines first killed Jonathan. Then, it says that the Philistine archers “wounded [Saul] critically” (1 Sam. 31:3). Saul took his own life, and his body was found the next day by the Philistine aggressors. Here it gets gory... the Philistines cut off Saul's head, stripped off his armor, and they hung his naked dead body from the wall of Beth Shan. Fortunately some brave Israelites rescued the bodies during the night and buried the bones.
When David heard what had happened he sang a sad song: “David took up this lament concerning Saul and his son, Jonathan....” (2 Samuel 1:17). He sings of “how the mighty have fallen” and his love for Jonathan (2 Sam. 1:19-27). He ordered that all of the men of Judah be taught this lament.
Israel's geography is filled with peaks and valleys, up down and around every corner there is peak or valley. And that's real life too isn't it? There are peaks and valleys to living and we have to travel through both. Times of sadness come to all of us. Loss and grief are part of what it means to live. We don't deny it. We don't hide from it. Just read through the Psalms, and observe all of the peaks and the valleys of emotions that the psalmists struggled with. They are filled with lament. Sure there is a lot of praise in the psalms, but there is also a lot of sad songs, lamentations. This morning I read Psalm 130 which begins, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice, Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy” (Psalm 31:1,2). But we're always urged to move on through the valley, to put our hope in the God of the valley: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning” (Psalm 130:5,6). I don't know if you are in a peak or a valley today, but God is God of both.
As I was taking pictures at Beth Shan I noticed that high on the peak above the ruins of Beth Shan stands a tree, a lonely tree high on the hill. Look real closely in the middle of this picture and you will see it. And I was reminded that there was a man who hung on a tree. His name was Jesus. All who trust in his death on that cross overcome the wages of sin, namely death, eternal sadness and judgment: “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3,4). In the midst of my peak and valleys this is where I look. What else do we have?
Paul McCartney sang, "Hey Jude, Don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better. Remember to let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better." If you read the rest of the lyrics to "Hey Jude" it's really not such a bad song (musically or lyrically speaking) about the importance of letting people into your life. And that's good advice. Unfortunately I will always associate this song with playing high school football because in my junior year of high school this was one of the songs that was always played in the locker room while we were putting on our pads. So, this song doesn't make me sad. It just makes my adrenaline start jumping and pumping.
Anyway, there's a better song I'm thinking about that goes more to the point:
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.