Blessed is? More often, not.

Elijah vs. 450 prophets of Baal

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” – Jeremiah 17:7-10

Yes, the heart, our hearts, are deceitful above all things. As proof of this, the following passage shows the people of ancient Israel fully committed to worshipping an idol named Baal, and within minutes abandoning Baal and falling on their faces to declare, “the Lord, He is God.” And Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.” And all the people answered, “It is well spoken.” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” – 1 Kings 18:21-25. The Lord was about to “test the mind” and “give to everyone according to their ways.”

And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention. – 1 Kings 18:26-29. Good to see that Elijah had a sense of humor.

And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there. – 1 Kings 18:36-40. Pretty dramatic demonstration. It was easy to miss the significance of a sentence in this next passage.

And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.'” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 1 Kings 18:42-45. After years of drought–literally NO RAIN AT ALL–because of Baal worship, Elijah prayed to God for rain, BUT IT TOOK 7 TIMES FOR A TINY HAND-SIZED CLOUD TO APPEAR! How often do we quit believing God just before prayer is answered?

Blessed is? If you want NOT to be blessed, quit too soon, or set up idols in your heart. “Shall a man make gods unto himself, and they are no gods.” Jeremiah 16:20 . Charles Spurgeon comments: One great besetting sin of ancient Israel was idolatry, and the spiritual Israel are vexed with a tendency to the same folly.  Mammon still intrudes his golden calf, and the shrines of pride are not forsaken. Self in various forms struggles to subdue the chosen ones under its dominion, and the flesh sets up its altars wherever it can find space for them. Favorite children are often the cause of much sin in believers; the Lord is grieved when he sees us doting upon them above measure; they will live to be as great a curse to us as Absalom was to David, or they will be taken from us to leave our homes desolate. If Christians desire to grow thorns to stuff their sleepless pillows, let them dote on their dear ones. It is truly said that “they are no gods,” for the objects of our foolish love are very doubtful blessings, the solace which they yield us now is dangerous, and the help which they can give us in the hour of trouble is little indeed. Why, then, are we so bewitched with vanities? We pity the poor heathen who adore a god of stone, and yet worship a god of gold. Where is the vast superiority between a god of flesh and one of wood? The principle, the sin, the folly is the same in either case, only that in ours the crime is more aggravated because we have more light, and sin in the face of it. The heathen bows to a false deity, but the true God he has never known; we commit two evils, inasmuch as we forsake the living God and turn unto idols. May the Lord purge us all from this grievous iniquity!

Walls si, bridges no.

siege of Constantinople

Sir Isaac Newton seems to be credited, based on all the different images I found when looking for an image for this post, with the pithy admonition, “build bridges not walls.” I searched the term walls and bridges and most of the memes quoted Newton. Since Newton was a very smart scientist, but certainly not a historian, I presume he was talking about interpersonal relationships. However, his saying became “received wisdom” by all manner of politicians and celebrities, neither of which are historians either.

A real historian, David Frye, wrote an eye-opening history of 4,000 years of barrier-building, from the Fertile Crescent to the Malibu Colony, Walls: A History of Civilization in Blood and Brick. He writes, “Good fences make good neighbors” experienced early retirement. In its place came the untested phrase, “Build bridges, not walls.” If nothing else, the new slogan seemed designed to give military historians fits. Throughout history, bridge building had been recognized as an act of aggression. Since at least the time of Xerxes bridging the Hellespont, Caesar the Rhine, or Trajan the Danube, bridge building had preceded invasions….“

The review of the book that introduced it to me said, “In Walls, bridges are emblems of aggression. For instance, during the siege of Constantinople in 1453: The city’s seaside defenders watched with horror as Turkish sailors lashed together their boats to form a pontoon bridge spanning the Golden Horn. For the defenders of Constantinople, as for countless people before them, there was nothing more comforting than a wall, or more terrifying than a bridge.”

“One famous people that chose to live without walls were the Spartans, who felt that physical security made men decadent. ’They opted for a forced, artificial barbarism over high culture.’ Frye repeatedly observes that a lack of walls means a lack of diversity within society. In Sparta, as in most barbarian tribes beyond the walls, virtually each male citizen must have no profession other than war. In contrast, the Athenians built long walls to protect their access to their port, behind which their men diverged into a dazzling variety of jobs, such as philosopher, playwright, sculptor, architect, and historian. As Frye repeatedly documents, walls mean economic diversity and cultural progress. In contrast, a lack of secure borders means merely the war of all against all.

“When Frye’s attention turns to the New World, he finds the same patterns. In the wall-building civilizations of the Mayans and Incas: specialization and advance. Among the unwalled Indian braves of North America: warlike homogeneity. They were as different from one another as the ancient German was from the Gaul, Hun, Mongol, or Turk—which is to say, they were hardly different at all. They were all warriors, just like their unwalled counterparts in Eurasia, and utterly unlike the wall builders of South and Central America.”

I chose the Siege of Constantinople for my post, for a number of reasons: The conquest of Constantinople dealt a massive blow to the defense of mainland Europe, as the Muslim Ottoman armies thereafter were left unchecked to advance into Europe without an adversary to their rear. It was also a watershed moment in military history. Since ancient times, cities had used ramparts and city walls to protect themselves from invaders, and Constantinople’s substantial fortifications had been a model followed by cities throughout the Mediterranean region and Europe. The Ottomans ultimately prevailed due to the use of gunpowder (which powered formidable cannons). The fall of Constantinople marked the end of the Roman Empire, because by that time the Byzantine empire WAS all that was left of the Roman Empire. Up until the fall of that city, walls worked. Once cannons and explosives showed the vulnerability of walls, war became much bloodier and more mobile.

This is hardly an argument against walls and fences as lines of territory demarcation, as borders. There’s something emotionally basic about the security of boundaries. If you were to build a playground bordered by busy streets, and the playground had no fence, the kids would use much less of that territory than if it was fenced all around. The kids would play right up to the fence, secure in knowing the border. Without a border, the kids would be unsure of how far to go. If you were shopping for a home, and found two that were almost identical in the same neighborhood, but one had fenced yards back and front, and the other had no fence at all, which one would give you a more secure feeling?

Is a wall the best way to create border security? Not necessarily, but it belongs in the discussion. Let’s not mindlessly parrot but bridges not walls. History shows the former, not the latter, were the constructions of the aggressors.