I’m high in the mountains of North Carolina in the cozy vacation home of a generous friend. Seven rocking chairs keep company on the front porch. The view of the surrounding mountains is spectacular, uncluttered by other houses and with millions of trees to see on the peaks, near and far.
But today, it’s overcast and gray.
I’m at the house with the highest lot at the end of the street, but I can’t see any mountains no matter which way I look. It’s disorienting and unsettling. I want to close the blinds so I don’t keep watching for the mountains and feeling disappointed.
This is something of the fog I feel in general today that 1 Chronicles clears away.
1 Chronicles 3-4
I’ll be honest. This is a hard book for me to appreciate. All those names of people I know so little about, except for David, who’s front and center in several books. Why does God bother to take up so much space in his word with lists like these of name after unknown name?
I’ve been told that when you don’t know what to make of a Bible passage, ask yourself what you learn about God, about yourself, and about the gospel.
These unknown folks aren’t unknown to God. He knows who everybody is and how they lived. For some reason, it pleased him to jot their names down, so we’d read them all these thousands of years since.
Including them in the Bible shows me that God doesn’t forget anybody, and he’s made sure their names are remembered. He even included a list of the names of Edom’s kings in chapter 1, who were enemies of Israel, going back to that birthright business between Jacob and Esau.
But God’s not like us: he doesn’t play favorites or hold grudges. For reasons unknown, he memorializes the names of enemy kings–those responsible for harming his chosen people–not just the names of Israelites in this book.
And while most of what I read in 1 Chronicles today is just name-after-name, God also sticks in a little snippet of a story about Jabez, who was “a better man than his brothers.” When he asked for God’s blessings–large tracts of land and personal protection–God gave him just that, 1 Chr 4:9-10.
Even before Jesus came and made having a personal relationship with God a thing, Jabez already understands it: He lives honorably. He asks for God’s help. And he gets it.
I don’t learn a whole lot from lists of names about how to live, but I do learn about who God is: How he keeps records. How he knows who’s-who. How he blesses those who ask for blessing. How he shows up and engages in people’s lives for their good.
God isn’t off somewhere riding clouds in his winged chariot. He’s as near as the names on these pages, as near as the prosperity and protection of Jabez, as near as knowing Jabez’s birth story and recording it. (Jabez’s mother endured a lot of pain in childbirth, which is why she named him Jabez, “he causes pain,” christianity.com).
I don’t know my own birth story, but I’m guessing God does, which is comforting, as I’ve felt a little lost today, like why am I in North Carolina anyway? Apart from enjoying my daughter and her little family who live nearby (which is plenty), I’m disquiet within, a jumble of crummy feelings compounded by more than 25 bug bites, as big as half dollars.
To make matters worse, a general sadness keeps creeping in through the keyholes. I’m a lump on a log, and I can’t find my way off, and I’m struggling for the words to talk to God about it.
I’m used to having a task list to knock out at my house, not hours to myself to rest and fill up. I can’t find the magic reset button to push to feel like myself in this house.
But God sees. God knows. If he knew about Jabez’s painful birth, it’s not a hard stretch to believe that he also knows about this painful fog I’m lost in. I’m bolstered to believe that whether or not I get me, God does.
I don’t have to figure it out. I don’t have the power to set me right, even if I knew how. But God does, and that’s enough. In fact, it’s plenty, because he’s got the magic reset.
And suddenly, I feel like taking a ride despite the heavy clouds outside. My life is not up to me. My life is up to God. And I don’t have to mope until the sun comes out and those mountain peaks show back up. I know they’re there, strong and silent, even glorious, just like God is.
So I find socks and shoes and lace up, and when I do, lo and behold, I see the fog clearing, those mountain tops rising right where they were yesterday. The sun is burning through the haze. The sky is bluing. Fog still lies heavy in the lower elevations, but the peaks are clearly visible now and orienting.
Like the mountains that don’t move, God doesn’t change, regardless of my perception. He holds the answers to all my questions, so my load is easy and light. Regardless of how I feel, God is God, and I get to head outside and ride my bike.
Button pressed. Acts is next.
Paul’s been arrested on trumped up charges and gets his day in court. Tertullus, a smooth talking lawyer hired by the Jews, lays out the charges against him, and Paul responds that none of it can be proven, because none of it is true.
What is true is that Paul’s been minding his own business since returning to Jerusalem. The only thing he’s done that might be called disruptive is to say out loud that he believes in the resurrection, hardly a crime deserving jail-time.
Governor Felix seems to know the charges are bogus, but he wants to suck up to the Jews, so he leaves Paul in prison for two years.
Paul’s got to feel disheartened, locked up and wondering about this sudden shift in his schedule. Rather than speaking and serving and starting churches, he’s stuck in jail with his friends coming in and out to serve him. It’s not his calling, and it’s got to be disturbing.
So what does Paul do?
He tells the story of Jesus to everyone who will listen, many of them men in Rome’s administration, Ac 23:11, 25:10-21.
We know that he goes to Rome to face these same charges and is under house arrest for another two years. While there, he writes letters to some of the churches he started, letters that have become part of the New Testament—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, (Guzik, enduringword.com). The entire world has benefited from these letters ever since, letters that likely wouldn’t have been written had Paul been free to come and go.
Paul couldn’t have known what God was doing, having him arrested on false charges and confining his ministry for so many years. It had to have taken some dark nights of the soul to reorient himself.
But Paul doesn’t die on the vine—he thrives. He could have let the fog and confusion get to him, but he doesn’t. He trusts God with what he doesn’t understand. Paul says that his message of Jesus was made clear to everyone, even the palace guards who rotated their duty to watch him. And further, that most of the believers there were emboldened because of his chains to spread the gospel without fear, not frightened away from it as we might expect, Ph 1:12-14.
Trusting God is never a maybe proposition. It’s a sure thing, as sure as knowing there are still mountains in place even when the day is gray, as sure as knowing God is sovereign and working, even when we can’t see what he’s doing, even when we’re lost and a little clueless about what to do next.
It’s hugely comforting to know, deep down where I need to know it, that God is God, and I am not, and that he’s not rocked by foggy feelings. He’s solid. He’s the mountain, after all, the fortress, the strong tower. His plans and purposes stand regardless of anyone else, Ps 2, 61:3, 91:2; Pr 18:10.
And when I forget, he opens his words and gives me faith to believe them, “…the Lord will hear when I call to him,” Ps 4:3.
What’s more, I have “…God’s more-than-enough, more joy in one ordinary day…,” Ps 4:7, MSG.
He’s the one who puts me back together, Ps 4:8, MSG.
1 Chronicles 3-4, Acts 24, and Psalm 4 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.