The Word for today:
We're in Philadelphia right now. We're here for my daughter Gwenlyn's graduation from the University of Pennsylvania.
I've never been to Philadelphia before. I'd heard the bad and the ugly about the city (they booed Santa Claus!!) but Gwenlyn lived here four years and loves the place, so I give Philly a big thumbs up.
This afternoon, starting from the statue of Rocky (at the base of the Art Museum's 72 steps) I ran 7 miles ("Gonna Fly Now") as my son Eddy ran 11. Note the phrasing-- "as Eddy ran." I do not run with Eddy anymore. Few do. I just start with him, he disappears, and I run along, waiting for him to re-appear.
Running alongside the Schuylkill ("SKOO-kill") River, awaiting Eddy's reappearance, I saw people doing just about everything. I don't know why, but I decided to take a survey. Whenever I saw someone reading, I'd run by their picnic tables or chairs and glance at what it was they were reading. The results of my highly scientific poll are that at any given time 37.5% of people who are reading, are reading the Bible. (That's 3 of the 8 people I snuck up on!)
You can tell at a glance, even as you are running by, whether a person is reading a Bible or another book. Bibles come in all shapes and sizes and colors, but what distinguishes a Bible from any other book is its reference system. Even if you don't own a "reference Bible," you have a reference Bible anyway. By virtue of the chapter-and-verse numbering system in every Bible, your Bible is a reference Bible whether the spine says so or not.
Those numbers are there so that we can all be on the same page--at Psalm 44:3, or 2 Corinthians 3:18. But more importantly they are there because the Bible's author expects his readers to bring supporting information to the reading of any given passage.
The Bible is one big book made up of 66 smaller books. The author of the Bible expects us to read all 66 books, and to know information, already provided, which pertains to the passage we are reading.
Here's what that means today, as we read Lamentations. God expects us to know, without his repeating it, that he'd told us this day would come:
And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. (Leviticus 26:33)
God expects us to know, without his repeating it, how the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by the forces of Babylon; that Jerusalem was under siege almost two years; that food and water were so depleted that mothers were forced into the unthinkable; that King Zedekiah was forced to watch as his sons were murdered before his eyes; that then they destroyed Zedekiah's eyes:
And in the ninth year of his reign, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem and laid siege to it. And they built siegeworks all around it.
On the ninth day of the fourth month the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land.
Then a breach was made in the city, and all the men of war fled by night by the way of the gate between the two walls.
But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho.
Then they captured the king and brought him up to the king of Babylon at Riblah, and they passed sentence on him.
They slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah and bound him in chains and took him to Babylon.
And they burned the house of the LORD and the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house they burned down.
And the rest of the people who were left in the city were carried into exile.
(Excerpted from 2 Kings 25:1-12; cf. Jeremiah 39:1-11; Jeremiah chapter 52; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21.)
Your Bible is the ultimate self-referring book. It assumes your knowledge of every part of it. In fact it demands your knowledge of its unspoken references.
And then there's more: After a Bible student has mastered the Bible's self-referring structure, he discovers the Bible's Self-referring structure.
The Self referred to isn't you, nor I, nor Zedekiah. Ultimately, the Bible refers to its author.
As we shudder to see Zedekiah's sons killed before his very eyes, we learn to see through time, through the eyes of another Father, forced by our sin and by his love for us to watch as his only son is murdered on a cross just outside the city walls.
If only it were possible to put out his own eyes, or to take his son's place. But no. There was no other way to bring sin's exiles home.