The Belt of Truth 1

I knew something was seriously wrong when I couldn’t find the keys.

Not the keys to my house, but the keys the Holy Spirit gives us to unlock the door of destiny. Every other part of an entrance makes its appearance in Paul’s description of the Armour of God so, by my reckoning, keys should be there as well.

The words for door and threshold both turn up without any mask or disguise. Thureos, the word for shield, comes from the Greek for door while belos, the word for fiery darts, is identical to belos for threshold. They’re not hard to identify. In addition, there are transparent allusions to pillars or doorposts, hinge, lintel, gate and mezuzah (the memorial box devout Jews affix to their doorways), some of which we’ve already looked at in this series.

But no keys.

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Send a Kiss to Central Australia

Has God ever told you to do something so strange you doubted your own mind?

Some years ago I was researching material for a novel set west of Alice Springs. Although I’d lived in Alice for several months a decade ago, I wanted to refresh my memory of the area.

Enter Google Earth.

As I was panning around, I zoomed in on an area just north of those ‘painted caterpillars’ which form the MacDonnell Ranges. Suddenly I felt an immensely strong compulsion to pray God’s will would be done at one unnamed hill near the junction of two remote outback roads.

It was a stupendously strong feeling, the like of which I’ve never encountered before or since. To pray for a smudge of a flyspeck in the middle of nowhere? Sure, I knew God is interested even in the fall of a sparrow but why would He be interested in a hill without a name in a place where almost no one goes?

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The story of Samson is a cautionary tale about the consequences of presuming on God’s grace. Although it’s often couched as a salutary story on the wiles of sultry temptresses like Delilah, she is in fact only the agent of the judgment that inevitably befell him. The incident immediately prior to her introduction is the real turning point of his career:

One day Samson went to the Philistine city of Gaza, where he met a prostitute and went to bed with her. The people of Gaza… waited for him all night long at the city gate… ‘We’ll wait until daybreak, and then we’ll kill him.’ But Samson stayed in bed only until midnight. Then he got up and took hold of the city gate and pulled it up—doors, posts, lock, and all. He put them on his shoulders and carried them far off to the top of the hill overlooking Hebron. Judges 16:1–3 GNT

Now the next time we hear of Gaza it’s when Samson is defeated and taken there as a slave. There he died, between two pillars. The chronicler clearly meant the reader to see a cause-and-effect sowing-and-reaping relationship between the two events.

However let’s examine this tantalisingly brief story in more detail. It sheds so much light for us as to how and why we can be presumptuous about God’s gift of protection through the breastplate of righteousness.

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The Breastplate of Righteousness 3

Just over eighty years ago, on Saturday 5 August 1933, our local newspaper ‘THE COURIER-MAIL’ printed this fascinating article equating the rose of Sharon with the narcissus tazetta. Although many websites identify this particular narcissus as the Biblical rose of Sharon mentioned in both Song of Songs and Isaiah, I have not found any other document which explains why the two are linked. This article also mentions marriage customs involving the narcissus which I have not seen recorded in any other place. Thank you, Dr Goddard!

The Rose of Sharon
An Ancient Legend about the Narcissus and its Symbolism in Christianity

AMONG the ruins of Geba, where murmuring waters flow from Mount Ebal to the sea, the excavation of an ancient city of Israel has begun. Here it was that tradition has placed the vineyard of Naboth. Here it was that Elijah stood as “a fury slinging flame” and hurled his anathemas at King Ahab and his proud consort.

Among the first treasures brought to light is a fragment of a slab on which is cut the flower of a narcissus, and under it the words in ancient Hebrew: “The bulb of Sharon.” There is no indication as to what this stone stood for, as the upper part is missing and could not be traced. Probably it has been ground to powder, as Geba was destroyed to form the foundation of a Roman city.

But there is a wealth of story and probably biblical commentary in this bit of ancient stone. In the “Song of Solomon” in the Old Testament we read of the “rose of Sharon” and “the lily of the valleys.” The ancient Hebrew word for “bulb” is the same as that for “rose,” and it was not till the artificial introduction of vowel points that the two words could be distinguished. This fragment recovered at Geba strongly suggests that this passage should read as follows:

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I had a great idea. At least it seemed like one at the time.

It’s possible to identify seven hidden references to wildflowers in the Paul’s description of the armour of God in Ephesians 6. It might be tricky to translate the ancient names into modern botanical terms but we can be reasonably sure of the majority.

‘What if,’ I thought, ‘an anointing oil were created from the extracts of these flowers?’ An armorial oil, as it were, which uses the floral symbols of divine armour. I liked the idea immediately because oils generally mix together and that would also convey the idea of covenantal oneness.

The hunter-gatherer instinct in me kicked in and I began to scour the internet to see whether this was a viable idea. A web search was definitely an easier proposition than heading out into the fields and woodlands, looking for rare and hidden herbs that might be peeping out from the grass. Woods and fields in suburban south-east Queensland are in short supply anyway.

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In her compelling book Permission to Speak Freely, Anne Jackson says this: ‘The Pharisees knew the Messiah was coming. They knew people needed a Saviour. They just didn’t believe they were the ones needed saving. This quote from The Prodigal God has been haunting me: “Pharisees only repent of their sins but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness too.”’

Now this was the only statement that, in an otherwise superb book, took me completely aback. I sincerely hope that, in context, the quote from The Prodigal God comes across differently. I’d be disturbed to find righteousness and self-righteousness had effectively collapsed into each other and that, for many of us, there is no longer any functional difference between them.

Christians repenting of righteousness suggests a deep core illness in the modern mindset. When we start to equate righteousness and self-righteousness, the spiritual zeitgeist has gone too far: it has started to deify Mercy. We’ve actually started to make a god out of Grace.

This is just as bad as deifying Righteousness—and that’s what the Pharisees’ problem really was: they had elevated Righteousness to the Godhead and seen that as the totality of His being. Depending on the century, the prevailing culture, our own personal inclination, we are apt to do this with other attributes of God’s nature: honour, integrity, truth, love, peace, order.

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The Helmet of Salvation 2

If you were stunned by multi–layered intricacy of the allusions in the helmet of salvation mentioned in the last post, it’s time to strap on your seatbelt. This is just the first sparkle of the treasure trove. Before we go on, it’s worth asking why — why the flowers, the gemstones, the kiss of heaven, the threshold, the covenant and all the rest of the dazzle?

In my view, it’s because the epistle to the Ephesians was written to a city of sorcerors. They knew about curses and charms, agreements with demons, gemstone amulets, the power of words, incantations as songs or musical invocations, arcane spells hidden in mathematics or within seemingly nonsensical phrases.

Before the riot in Ephesus instigated by the silversmith Demetrius which is recorded in Acts 19, many people turned to Jesus and burned their books of magic. This happened because the seven sons of the Jewish chief priest Sceva tried to cast out demons in ‘the name of Jesus whom Paul preached’.

In a town like Ephesus where magic was a way of life, there were no doubt many opportunities for a deliverance ministry such as that offered by the sons of Sceva. However they wound up seriously wounded and having to flee naked from a house when a man with an evil spirit jumped them and demanded, ‘Jesus I know and I know about Paul—but who are you?

As a result of this notoriety, Paul was able to spread the gospel message much more widely. Many Jews and Greeks repented of dabbling in the occult and threw their scrolls of magic on a huge bonfire. The value of these spells was a staggering fifty thousand drachmas—around 150 years’ wages for an average labourer.

Meantime, down in the Ephesus CBD, the silversmiths were getting agitated.

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The Helmet of Salvation 1

As we approach the Jewish New Year—Rosh Hashanah, the head of the year—it seems appropriate to look at the armour covering the head which Paul wrote about his letter to the people of Ephesus.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:17 NIV

The word Paul used for helmet is perikephalaia. Strictly it isn’t a helmet, just something that goes around the head. I guess it’s translated as helmet because Paul was talking about armour. Perikephalaia is formed from the prefix ‘peri-’, around, and from kephale, meaning head. It’s probably related in Paul’s thinking to the Aramaic word karbela’, a helmet, turban, mantle or robe—just something you wrap around yourself.

In fact, all these wraparound things were meant to remind Paul’s Ephesian readers of this nifty verse from Isaiah: He put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle.

Isaiah 59:17 NAS

Still, perikephalaia does specifically mention the head, ‘kephale’. But kephale goes further than just meaning head: it also encapsulates a sense of supreme, chief, principal, prominent and even cornerstone.

Surprise! Surprise! We’re back on one of my favourite topics and I didn’t even have to try hard. In ancient times, the cornerstone was not only the first part of a building laid down, it was also a most sacred place, the threshold. In Hebrew it is kaph, a word associated with atonement, but in this case meaning a shallow basinstone to catch the blood dripping from the lintels and doorposts when a guest was welcomed with a fatted calf or sheep.

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Ever had that moment when the scales fall off your eyes? When the veil falls away and it strikes you the situation is not what you think it is?

I had such a moment recently when I was digging (yet again!) in Ephesians 6. As I noted in The Story of a Cover, there’s an allusion to the rose of Sharon in the armour of God. Actually, upon further investigation, it transpired there are—surprise, surprise!—seven flowers.

What’s an entire layer of subtle references to Israel’s flora doing in the Armour of God? Good question. But it’s not the only layer:

  1. Surface layer: the accoutrements of Roman armour—helmet, breastplate, belt, sword, shield, shoes—plus an extra bit of protection in prayers and hymns.
  2. Sub-surface layer 1: the elements of a threshold—pillars, lintel, gates, threshold stone, mezuzah, seals, door. These do not correspond in a one-to-one fashion to the Roman armour, but are based on puns. For instance, the word for ‘darts’ (as in fiery darts of the Evil One) comes from belos, threshold while the word for ‘shield’ doubles as a word for door. With a single exception, these are Greek puns and I have no doubt the average reader would have spotted them immediately.

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Tissue Territory

I got a lovely email today. I’d sent a sample copy of God’s Panoply to the director of a resource centre in the hope I’d get permission to put some advertising at an upcoming conference. He read the first chapters of the book just prior to this event. Here’s what he wrote:

I was in Townsville last weekend with Sandra and Peter at the Healing Shame seminar.  On the Saturday the Holy Spirit led Sandra to invite women to repent for their mistreatment of men and this was responded too with a couple of ladies taking the pulpit and repenting and asking for forgiveness.  Men were given the opportunity to respond and 4 did. I was one of them.

I had only had opportunity to read your book on the Wednesday before I flew to Townsville on the Thursday afternoon. I devoured the first chapter and loved it. As I approached the pulpit on Saturday, your book in hand, I explained you had just not long ago published it and sent it to me. I felt the need to repent, as a minister of the Gospel, for the suffering placed on women from the pulpit through the misuse and misinterpretation of scripture and read a few portions of the book about the real meaning of being the head and the heart Paul was writing from when talking about submission and the true meaning of lifting one another up and being a covenant defender.

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To Boldly Go…

I’m single. I always have been.

From time to time across the years, a well–meaning (invariably married) friend would warmly commend a book or a seminar on singleness to me.

Once upon a time, I’d act on the recommendation but after a while I learned better. Books and seminars tended to regard ‘singleness’ as that temporary state of being between two marriages. They had nothing for a girl twenty years, thirty years, forty years… and more… unmarried.

In the end, I couldn’t stand this kind of book. What, I asked, could someone who had been single for the eternity of five years after a divorce tell me about the topic?

Not long after beginning to write God’s Panoply, I realised that one of the sweeping themes in it was marriage. I was horrified. I mean: if I hated people telling me about singleness when the most they knew about it was a couple of years prior to a re–marriage, how could I dare to write about marriage?

I delayed when it came to the writing, talked to God, pleaded with Him, argued that He must have called a married person to write the same ideas… All I got by way of answer was: ‘No one can ever accuse you of having a hidden agenda.’

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The Story of a Cover

I’d been looking for the ideal cover for my latest book, God’s Panoply—The Armour of God and the Kiss of Heaven, for over a year. I’d narrowed my options slowly, wanting to make sure my choice and God’s choice coincided.

Eventually I decided that the soft focus stock photograph of a mounted knight in armour that I’d been looking at for three months was the one. Imagine my horror when the day I got around to buying it (always a good option when trying to persuade my publisher) it had disappeared from the Dreamstime website. Not to worry. I’m sure I’d seen it on istockphoto, though a little more expensive. It was gone from there too!

Wait! There were other stock photo sites where I’d seen the same shot. All gone!

I was in shock. I’d been praying about the perfect cover for a year—and I felt like I’d been robbed. I looked at my secondary choices. None of them were anywhere near as good.

So I had a long anguished chat with God. Not long after, He directed me to a picture that, I have to say, was not my idea of panoply. It was a daffodil—nothing like armour. However the more I looked at pictures of shields and bucklers, swords and banners, the more I felt the Holy Spirit pulling me back to the daffodil. ‘But it doesn’t mean anything!’ I wailed. ‘At least the rose on God’s Poetry symbolises the essence of names. The whole rose-by-any-other-name question raised by Shakespeare as to whether a name has any effect on anyone.’

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